DESPITE giving assurances that the United Nations human rights office in Cambodia
could continue its work, Hun Sen refused to meet one of two visiting top UN rights
envoys and again lambasted their local office here.
Although High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson lauded her Jan 23 meeting
with Hun Sen as a "full and frank and, I believe, a positive discussion",
the Second Prime Minister appeared to be more focused on attempting to embarrass
UN rights staff than cooperating with them.
UN special representative for human rights Thomas Ham-marberg was also expected to
attend the meeting but was excluded at the last minute. Hun Sen said that Hammarberg
was absent because the envoy did not request a meeting with him, but Hammarberg told
the Post that Hun Sen had telephoned Robinson the night before the meeting and said
he would not meet her if Hammarberg was present.
"We talked, and decided it would be a shame for the UN if she left without seeing
him," Hammarberg said, although some other rights workers criticized Rob-inson's
decision to agree to Hun Sen's demand.
The High Commissioner secured Hun Sen's agreement for the mandate of the UN Center
for Human Rights in Cambodia to be extended - soothing fears that the government
was gearing up to close it down before the national elections scheduled for July
- although the atmosphere at their meeting was plainly less than friendly.
Robinson said later that she had "pressed Hun Sen very hard" over the lack
of investigation into killings after July's factional fighting. The Second Prime
Minister appeared "very uncomfortable" with her questions, she told a press
conference in Tokyo, where she flew after leaving Cambodia, on Jan 27, according
to Kyodo News Services.
Hun Sen, meanwhile, continued his efforts to discredit the UN Center's report on
the killings. At his meeting with Robinson he produced four men whom he said were
listed as dead or missing by the UN rights office.
Lashing out at Center workers, he said: "We could not have good cooperation
with the people who violate us, who abuse us or distort us."
Hammarberg quickly issued a statement to assert that one of the four men was not
listed at all in the UN report of post-July killings, and two were merely listed
as missing, but he acknowledged an error with the fourth man, who had been listed
as dead. Hammarberg said the man was the brother of two executed men and his name
was only listed because of a minor spelling error in his first name.
"I must say that I think it is surprising that a prime minister is parading
a person whose two brothers were killed as evidence that the report about these killings
was wrong," Hammarberg later told the Post. The UN report alleged at least 41
Analysts surmised that the UN envoy had been excluded from the meeting because he
was more thoroughly familiar with the report than was Robinson.
"I would have corrected his mistakes on the spot," Hammar-berg said, noting
that in a September meeting with the Second Prime Minister, he had been able to debunk
another parade of men whom Hun Sen claimed had been listed as dead.
However, he expressed no anger with Robinson for going ahead with the meeting without
him. "We are as one when it comes to the situation here," he told a Jan
24 press conference.
Hun Sen's latest attempt to discredit the Center comes on the heels of a contentious
incident in which municipal police grabbed former Funcinpec military policeman Chao
Sokhon - released from prison days earlier after the Court of Appeal overturned two
drug convictions against him - out of a UN vehicle as he was about to board a flight
at Pochentong airport on Jan 3.
The UNCHR lodged a formal complaint that their diplomatic immunity had been violated,
but the two Prime Ministers countered with a letter to Robinson and UN Secretary-General
Kofi Annan claiming Sokhon was a convict, and by escorting him to the airport, Center
workers "grossly interfered in the internal process of ... a sovereign state".
The Prime Ministers demanded that local rights officials be reprimanded, and that
they apologize or be replaced.
Yet one angry rights worker, who claimed that the Interior Ministry had issued a
passport to Sokhon just a few days before he tried to leave, responded: "I wouldn't
apologize... They can throw me out of the office."
Hammarberg said Kofi Annan had replied to the Prime Ministers' complaint by asking
them to investigate the case. "So I will do that and report to him, and the
Prime Ministers will have their response," he promised. Robinson told the press
conference that the Sokhon issue "was not raised" in her meetings with
Robinson, however, won Hun Sen's assurances that the Center could stay in Cambodia.
"The Center has a two-year mandate and both Prime Ministers agreed to extend
the mandate," Hun Sen spokesman Prak Sokhonn confirmed, adding that the length
of the extension had not been decided.
The UN has requested a two-year renewal when the current agreement with the government
expires in March, according to Hammarberg.
Robinson also secured agreement that the government would accept a UN expert to assist
in the official investigations of 1997 political killings.
"This is my concern as High Commissioner - that the investigation of the events
... be very clearly examined and I think there are aspects of it that can be particularly
identified as warranting examination," she said, citing the case of executed
Secretary of State for Interior Ho Sok.
Hammarberg added that the expert could also aid in investigation of the unsolved
March 30 grenade attack on a Khmer Nation Party demonstration. Hammarberg and Robinson
briefly visited the attack site, laid a wreath and spoke to survivors.
Robinson also paid a visit to the Tuol Sleng genocide museum, formerly a torture
center during the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime. "There has been an inexcusable
delay in realizing how much this country has suffered, and a need for more concern
at the international level," she said, adding that the government welcomed a
proposed UN team of experts to examine evidence against the Khmer Rouge.
Among other positive developments during the two rights envoys' Cambodia visit was
the release of two women, allegedly linked to the Funcinpec resistance, held without
charge for three weeks by military in Koh Kong. Hammarberg accompanied a human rights
delegation to the southern province to secure their release.
While there, he also raised with local authorities the large human trafficking problem
in the province. "It was clear that some police were involved in this, so we
wanted to be certain that they actually had a crackdown," Ham-marberg said.
"We will continue to monitor this. We have made our point - that this needs
to be remedied - with some force."
He added that governor Rong Plamkesan had assured him that human rights NGOs would
be welcome in his province. Previously, the governor had reportedly threatened to
ban rights workers from Koh Kong.
Rights workers, claiming increased intimidation in Cam-bodia's provinces, called
for greater monitoring of rights abuses and protection of investigators.
The international NGO Human Rights Watch said Jan 21 that "the human rights
situation is dire enough in Cambodia to warrant as much monitoring, domestic and
international, as possible".