Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Post-UNTAC HR Presence Assured

Post-UNTAC HR Presence Assured

Post-UNTAC HR Presence Assured

As a small but significant step designed to assist with the long-term human rights

protection of Cambodians, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights has decided to maintain

an operational presence in Cambodia after UNTAC departs.

Called "an important first" by UNTAC Human Rights Component chief Dennis

McNamara, the decision guarantees the first authorized U.N. presence once UNTAC completes

its mission.

Adopted without a vote on Feb. 19 by 21 U.N.-member nations, the agreement will allow

the U.N.'s Centre for Human Rights to open an office in Phnom Penh and maintain operations

here for at least two years.

However, while the establishment of the Centre for Human Rights Operations in Cambodia

is viewed favorably by UNTAC human rights officials, their request that the U.N.

appoint a Special Rapporteur on human rights for Cambodia was not approved. In a

compromise decision the U.N. has agreed that the Secretary-General will appoint a

"Special Representative" who will "maintain contact" with the

people of Cambodia, oversee the U.N. human rights presence in the country and report

to the General Assembly.

A Special Rapporteur would have held a much more high-profile position within the

U.N. and would have reported to the Secretary-General directly.

Diplomatic and NGO observers in Phnom Penh have speculated that the compromise on

the question of appointing a special rapporteur reflected concern by other countries

in Asia that a precedent would be set and would possibly result in similar U.N. actions

for Asian nations with questionable human rights track records.

Commenting on the U.N.'s decision, Dennis McNamara said, "We welcome the first

part, the Centre's coming here, but we regret that the provisions of Article 17 of

the Peace Accords were not directly implemented. That would

have meant a Special Rapporteur to monitor closely the human rights situation in

Cambodia."

Cambodia's human rights organizations were also disap-pointed that a special rapporteur

was not appointed. "If we ask all of the Khmer human rights NGOs, they would

all agree," said Kek Galabru, president of the Cambodian League for Promotion

and Defense of Human Rights. "We're dissappointed, but I still have hope that

we could get [a Special Raporteur]."

The request for the Special Rapporteur and for the Centre to set up operations in

Cambodia was made by UNTAC head, Yasushi Akashi in a written appeal delivered to

the 49th session of the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. Akashi's prepared statement

noted that in spite of numerous achievements on the human rights front since the

signing of the Paris Peace Accords the situation in Cambodia had become worse of

late.

"I regret to report that in recent months the overall human rights environment

has seriously deteriorated in Cambodia," Akashi said. His statement went on

to outline the four separate incidents between July and December 1992 where over

40 ethnic Vietnamese were killed and the more than forty separate human rights violations

against different political parties which took place between November 1992 and mid-January

1993.

Akashi's statement noted that "the FUNCINPEC party has been a particular target

of these attacks. While we have not been able yet to determine precise responsibility

for most of these attacks, they have occurred in territory controlled by the State

of Cambodia which has the prime responsibility for preventing, investigating and

prosecuting such acts. I regret that the relevant authorities have not taken this

action in any of the cases reported to us."

The Centre for Human Rights operations' projected funding level for the first year

is U.S. $1.4 million. It will provide support to newly-established human rights organizations,

assist the newly-elected government in meeting its obligations under international

human rights covenants, undertake human rights educational and technical support

services, and provide training to persons responsible for the administration of justice.

It is expected that about ten U.N. professional staff will be based in Phnom Penh

to carry out the Centre's activities.

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