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Leuprecht on political violence and reform

Leuprecht on political violence and reform

un.jpg
un.jpg

Peter Leuprecht, special representative for the UN High Commissioner for Human

Rights, has appealed to Prime Minister Hun Sen to seek an end to political

violence in Cambodia. However, Leuprecht was optimistic the situation was

improving.

Peter Leuprecht

"Hun Sen really committed himself to repeating his earlier

appeals against violence and told me: 'I will repeat it 50 times'," said

Leuprecht, who arrived November 18 for ten days of meetings and

consultations.

"One is inclined to compare the commune elections with the

last two general elections and, while I entirely disapprove of any violence,

there's been less of it than at those previous occasions," he said, adding that

the post election environment would require continued

monitoring.

"Vigilance will have to continue after the election. Some

people who've been local rulers for a long time will lose their jobs and may not

find it easy to accept that," he warned.

While Leu-precht said that any

political motivation for recent violence was difficult to determine, he noted

that "nonetheless the victims happen to be politically active and this sort of

incident is not conducive to a relaxed climate in which free and free elections

can take place".

"To be fair [Minister of Interior] Sar Kheng has issued

instructions to the police to be vigilant in regard to acts of violence, so my

feeling is that these kinds of incidents are not wanted by the authorities and

are not in their interests either," he said.

In addition to the upcoming

elections, Leuprecht said that judicial reform and the right to education would

be the focus of his visit. He said he would also attempt to resolve the still

outstanding issue of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the Cambodian

Office of the UNHCHR during his visit. The organization has been operating

without an agreement with the Cambodian government for almost two years.

"When I met the PM last June he sounded very encouraging and said the

MOU should be signed soon. [However] it has not yet been resolved. The PM said I

should discuss it with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, which I will do," said

Leuprecht, describing the sticking point that needed to be resolved.

"The

question of immunity for words spoken by participants at events organized by the

office; Cambodian people should be able to speak freely [at such events] and not

be harassed when they come out of the meeting," he said.

In their

meeting the Prime Minister had agreed that judicial reform remained a major

issue.

"He said the judicial reform remained a priority and he said he

found that progress was too slow and that efforts should be speeded up.

[Cambodia needs to] depoliticize, ensure the independence and stop interference

by the executive in the judiciary. They [need to stop] these kinds of circulars

that ministries dish out where the judges are told how they should decide,"

Leuprecht said of the key elements of judicial reform. Increasing salaries,

opening the bar to young lawyers and improving court conditions were also

essential, he said.

"The material conditions of courts are appalling.

There are some unbelievable practical problems. One reason people who are

arrested are not presented to the judge is that they don't have any means of

transport to bring them from the prison."

Leuprecht also said he was not

convinced about the effectiveness of the new penal code under discussion in the

National Assembly. If the code becomes law it will dramatically increase

penalties for a range of offenses.

"I agree that the country needs a new

penal code [but] I certainly do not think that higher penalties are a solution

to the crime problem," he said. Giving judges greater leeway would be preferable

to higher penalties.

"I have been critical of certain instructions issued

by the previous Minister of Justice telling judges to inflict the maximum

penalty - the judge should be able to appreciate all circumstances of the

case."

Speaking about progress on the proposed Khmer Rouge trial,

Leuprecht said the subject had been raised repeatedly in New York. "I think

we've now reached the stage when the UN must come to an agreement. I know that

Ambassador Corell has received an official translation of the law and I think

that the remaining issues can be handled within the MOU. I very much hope that

they will come here and negotiate with the Cambodian government before the end

of this year," he said.

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