A TOP UN human rights official has defended the delay in publishing a report that
details systematic political killings and intimidation of opposition party supporters
Although some details had leaked out in recent months, the report - detailing 42
additional murders to the 41 documented by the UNCHR last August - was not publicized
until last week when King Sihanouk published it in his monthly bulletin.
Thomas Hammarberg, special representative of the United Nations secretary-general
for human rights in Cambodia, said he had an agreement with the government not to
publicly release the report till they had had a chance to examine it and respond.
He said he would have been prepared to break the embargo if there was a specific
case of torture or execution that publicity might have prevented. But he was not
prepared to do it as a pre-emptive measure to prevent more deaths.
Hammarberg said if another political killing was shown to have occurred after the
report's release to the government but before its public release it "would not
trouble my conscience".
The report has an update on last August's memorandum of killings and disappearances
following the coup plus additional ones since then - in most of the cases in
the report there are strong indications they were carried out by soldiers or police
loyal to the CPP.
Hammarberg said it is better to look at the broader context and refered to himself
as the "architect" for reform. "In the end it is a question of effectiveness,"
he said, adding that the most effective way of curbing human rights abuses is to
try and work with the government rather than by confrontation.
Hammarberg refused to discuss the contents of the report, saying he wanted to meet
with the government first. However, he said "all of the cases require investigation".
This has been a particular focus of Hammarberg's, whose strongest comments are aimed
at the lack of action by the authorities rather than directly accusing the government
"[The report is] a collation of where we are now, since early July, which underscores
again the need for investigation. The point is not that the cases are new, the point
is: 'For God's sake, start with the investigation!'"
Meanwhile the government has been active in its criticism of human rights groups
and workers in Cambodia, especially the UN Center for Human Rights.
"The Royal Government is being subjected to a campaign by some human rights
activists who are not interested in resolving problems, but who only want to use
human rights issues as a means to criticize the government," according to an
April 8 statement from the "spokesman for the Royal Government" and signed
by Sok An's adviser Svay Sitha.
The statement said leaks by UNCHR officers have "all the hallmarks of an orchestrated
campaign against the Royal Government".
"There are those human rights activists who do not care to work with the Royal
Government to resolve outstanding problems and differences of opinion, but rather
to see human rights issues as a tool to attack the Cambodian government; worse still...
they leak the results beforehand in order to create a negative impression in the
mind of the public."
But officials in the CPP further away from the Council of Ministers have appeared
to distance themselves from such a confrontational stance.
CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith, a party stalwart, said he had nothing to do with the
"There are many spokesmen for the government," he said. "That one
is not from me. It is from the Council of Minister, from Tha (Svay Sitha). I don't
want to comment on that."
Evidence of the strained relationship between the government and the UNCHR surfaced
again last week when the pro-government Business News lashed out at the UN agency
in a June 1 front-page article titled: "Plot against Hun Sen, CPP and government".
The article, citing a 17-page "confidential memorandum", claimed the UNCHR
is in the process of "setting up a unit to discredit the upcoming elections".
Hammarberg said the pressure hasn't affected the center's work.
However, rights officials in Phnom Penh have acknowledged that dozens of killings
were left out of the latest report because of concerns over minor details such as
the transliteration of names and other details about those who have been executed.
Hammarberg said there was no pressure to rush the release of the report, saying that
many of the cases were brought up with the government and then in the press soon
after people were killed.
"We have no opinions. We just want human rights to be respected, whoever is
in power...The problem in all human rights reporting is that the reports are critical...
It will be interpreted as: 'The government is not working the right way'. That is
not our intention. If the government protected human rights, the problem would be
Hammarberg said it is understandable that the government can question the good faith
of the UNCHR, due to its link to the UN decision to recognize the fallen Khmer Rouge
government throughout the 1980s.
"If you look back at recent history, the way the majority of UN member governments
reacted during the Khmer Rouge period and after was not an honorable one," he
said, noting that he personally lobbied against Khmer Rouge recognition.
"That was the UN representation at the time. The fact that the UN [only] last
autumn could agree to use the terms "crimes against humanity" is sad. I
understand if people here feel like it's much too late. It is much too late. And
those that pushed for [condemnation then] were in human rights. We're not part of
a political conspiracy. The only conspiracy we're involved in is the protection of
human rights: a conspiracy of hope."