Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - 'Sad truths' from UN rep

'Sad truths' from UN rep

'Sad truths' from UN rep

The UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia, Thomas

Ham-marberg, is currently preparing a report to be presented to the UN Human Rights

Commission in March. The Post's Elizabeth Moorthy and Eric Pape spoke

to him about what that report will likely say.

Phnom Penh Post: At the end of your last visit, you said there would be consequences

if the government had not made substantial progress in investigating the March 30

grenade attack or the large number of executions since early July. What are they,

and did [High Commissioner for Human Rights] Mary Robinson's meetings with the government

affect those consequences?

Thomas Hammarberg: What she got from them is that investigations will be made,

that they will be serious, no one will be spared. The sad truth is that there has

been no commission of inquiry established, no serious criminal investigation made,

and of course no prosecution brought forwards, and this is half a year after the

events. The sad thing with that delay is that there's a risk that evidence will disappear

and, of course, we will have to report that to the world community... I've already

told the Secretary-General [in early January] that there has been no reply on my

request for a report on the progress in the investigation. I just would like to repeat

that the General Assembly adopted a resolution in November which underlined the importance

of the investigation.

What can the UN do if Cambodia continues to be uncooperative?

Well, the United Nations represents the governments of the world, and these governments

have relations with Cambodia. Of course this is a negative element in the relations

between outside governments and the government of Cambodia. It can't be helped that

the donor community will consider this when they decide on future cooperation with


Hun Sen claimed once again that the UN Center's report on the July executions

is shoddy, and he paraded four people in front of Mary Robinson whom he said were

listed as executed or missing in the report. How do you respond?

Okay, let's go to the facts. I have a letter here [dated Jan 27] from the two

prime ministers to the Secretary-General. They have already withdrawn one name: this

fourth person wasn't mentioned anywhere in the report, so that takes care of that.

Two others who were paraded are listed in our report as missing... We have more names

than they do of people who have resurfaced, and of course we welcome that, but this

is no [sign] that something was wrong with the report.... The fourth case... was

just a spelling error... we should have written Chao Kong, but we wrote Chao Keang...

The age was right, and the rest of the description of him was right. It so happens

that those two who were killed have a brother whose name is Chao Keang... 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.

So the whole thing about the four people he said were reported dead by us amounted

to one name being partly wrong... So all 41 people we had said were killed are still

dead, unfortunately, and no investigation has even started on a serious level. That's

the sad truth.

What does it say about Hun Sen that when he had an opportunity to show the UN

positive signs of an investigation, he instead used those people in a confrontational


Sad, non-productive.

Didn't he do this when you saw him before?

Now I think I can disclose that when I saw him in September the same approach

was prepared, and he paraded into the room a number of people in uniform... whom

he introduced as having been reported as killed. The suggestion was that we had reported

them as killed. I managed in that conversation to prove to him that none of them

had been reported as dead by us. In fact, towards the end of the discussion, he admitted

that our report was constructive in the sense that it dispelled rumors and misunderstandings

about the number of those killed.

Do you think you were excluded from the Robinson-Hun Sen meeting since you knew

the report inside and out, and perhaps might have caught the mistakes?

I would have corrected his mistakes on the spot because I knew the report. It

was unfortunate that [Hun Sen] didn't invite me; we could have turned the discussion

along more constructive routes instead of this public mudslinging.

Can you explain why you were excluded from that meeting?

I don't know why. It was [Hun Sen's] suggestion.

Regarding UN immunity issues, was the Chao Sokhon case really not discussed?

It was not brought up... [after the two Prime Ministers wrote a letter of complaint

to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Mary Robinson on the issue] the Secretary-General

decided to authorize me to investigate... so I will do that and report to him, and

the Prime Ministers will have their response... [Robinson] didn't raise it and in

fact neither Ung Huot nor Hun Sen raised it with her, which was a bit surprising

since they had sent her a letter just a few days beforehand.

What were some of the positive and negative sides of Mary Robinson's visit?

First of all, I'm a great fan of hers, I think she's a great person. She brings

principles into the work of human rights, which is important... I think she made

clear that the UN is prepared to cooperate with Cambodia... [she and the government]

agreed that the office would continue its work... She was extremely happy when she

went off, she said this has been quite something for her.

Do you have any constructive criticism of her visit?

I think she did the right thing because she has another mandate than I... if she

had gone into the issues I discuss in detail then she would have taken over my job,

and she didn't want to do that... the important thing was that she made so clear

that she stands behind me... Her 100% support for me and my work here was valuable,

especially during a visit when the Second Prime Minister seemed to have doubts...

So if, and I'm not certain, but if there was an attempt to create a divide between

the two of us, it did not succeed and wouldn't have succeeded.

So Mary Robinson got assurances the Center would remain open, but for how long?

We have proposed two years... The assistance program [which includes police and

military training, a judicial mentor program, and assistance to local NGOs] is a

two-year program, it runs out on 9 March. What we proposed now is a new program for

the coming two years and they have agreed to that. Implicitly, of course, it means

that the office has to stay at least two years because otherwise there would be no-one

to handle the program.

Isn't it possible the government could set conditions on the Center, such as only

allowing it to do training activities and not investigations?

They could propose anything, but there are two parties to this, of course. The

position of the UN is that when it comes to field offices there needs to be a combination

of assistance and monitoring. Monitoring is not an extra thing, it is integrated

into the work of the UN. How can you design a good assistance program if you don't

know the situation?

But the government might not see it that way.

No, but that is the position of the UN. I think everyone, on reflection, would

find it's a good combination... I feel confident about this now.

Despite the positive spirit of Mary Robinson, human rights violations and issues

appear to have been flaring in recent weeks. Have you noticed a worsening of the


There are problems. I do receive reports about intimidation against people of

other political opinions from the provinces, and I also got some reports recently

of human rights workers from the NGOs feeling worried about being observed and intimidated

by, mainly, the military... What I want is that there will be decisive steps from

the government to see to it that in every commune there is a freedom of discussion,

and tolerance and generosity from those in power positions today to allow people

to compete for power. That's what elections are about.

Is there a point where the international community can decide there is not enough

time left for the elections to be free and fair?

The international community has decided that it would like the elections to take

place and it has decided that if nothing negative occurs, they will fund the elections

throughout from now until the very end of the elections. I think it's very important

not to interpret this to mean that there would be no concern about whether they will

be free and fair. In fact all these millions of dollars produced will be coming from

taxpayers' money... The governments will be very keen to prove to their electorates

that this is not wasted money. I think the consequences will have to be increased

monitoring and an even more clear definition of how you define free and fair elections.

The media situation is one. Today the parties do not have equal access to the media.

I have had a discussion with [Information Ministry Secretary of State] Khieu Kanharith

about this and he promises steps now that would make a reality of that. He does admit

that it's not fair today, which is positive... I hope the pledges will be lived up

to... We have an election committee, and it's very unfortunate that one of the seats

there was assigned after an election which, according to many testimonies I've heard,

was a result of vote-buying, which is a bad sign... Then you have the question of

impunity. There is a need for a sign from the present government that they take seriously

the acts of political violence which have taken place in recent years. If they don't,

I feel that people will not dare to be active in demonstrations and politically,

and that is absolutely crucial for free and fair elections. It's not only a question

of July, there's also an importance of moving decisively on 30 March. Hok Lundy,

who is the chair of the commission into [30 March], promised to reinvite the FBI.

I haven't got any report that this actually has happened yet... the fact that there

have not been firm actions on the politically motivated murders which have taken

place have given a very negative signal to the society... I am very sad, but I have

already reported I am not convinced that authorities have really tried thoroughly

to investigate these.

What about the UN expert who has been proposed to help with investigation into

the July killings, do you really believe the government will cooperate with whoever

is appointed?

They have said so, we will see. The truth is in the eating of the pudding, as

the English say. We'll see. We want to identify a real expert... this whole operation

assumes now that the government will very soon establish a serious commission to

go into these cases, otherwise this will not be meaningful.

How long do you expect to remain in your position?

I have no plans to leave or resign... I'll definitely come back in April but I

will probably come one time before that. I will now have to begin to travel much

more in the provinces, to see more of what happens there.

Can you, personally, still work effectively in Cambodia, given that you were effectively

frozen out by Hun Sen this time?

Our relationship has been a bit up and down throughout the period I've been here.

My work is not to be applauded by leading government persons, but to represent the

UN. If he is wise, he would try to reestablish a dialogue. I think Cambodia needs

a continuation of a rights dialogue. It would be good for the respect of the government

internationally if he did that.

Do you think he will?

He would be wise if he did.


  • Volunteer scheme to foster ‘virtuous’ humanitarian spirit

    A senior education official said volunteer work contributes to solidarity and promotes a virtuous humanitarian spirit among the youth and communities. Serei Chumneas, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, made the comment during the opening of a training programme called “

  • Chinese firms unveil preliminary results on metro, monorail for capital

    Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol and representatives from China Road and Bridge Corp (CRBC) and its parent company, the state-owned China Communications Construction Co Ltd (CCCC), met on June 24 for talks on results of the firms’ preliminary study on a potential metro

  • ACLEDA, WU to enable global money transfers

    Cambodia's largest commercial bank by total assets ACLEDA Bank Plc and global money transfer firm Western Union (WU) have partnered to offer customers cross-border money transfers to 200 countries via “ACLEDA mobile” app. In Channy, president and group managing director of ACLEDA, said the June 22 agreement

  • Num banh chok pizza a new fusion hit

    Num banh chok is a traditional fish curry with fermented rice noodles, prahok fish paste, kroeung paste, flowering plants and seasonal vegetables that is arguably a strong contender for “national dish” status in Cambodia and typically served for breakfast or eaten as an afternoon snack.

  • Cambodia detects new Covid cases after 52 days: PM

    After 52 days of zero new Covid-19 cases, Cambodia has now detected new infections, according to Prime Minister Hun Sen. In his special audio address to the nation late on June 28, Hun Sen said the new cases were detected on people who had undergone PCR tests

  • Higher education leaders tour US

    With support from the US Department of State, 10 Cambodian leaders in higher education participated in the 10-day International Visitors Leadership Programme (IVLP) in three US states from June 19 to July 1. They included nine university rectors and directors of higher education institutions who are members of