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
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'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
"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
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.