Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - UN backs local OHCHR office in dispute




UN backs local OHCHR office in dispute

UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) country representative Wan-Hea Lee speaks during a press conference in Phnom Penh last month.
UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) country representative Wan-Hea Lee speaks during a press conference in Phnom Penh last month. Hong Menea

UN backs local OHCHR office in dispute

The United Nations is standing behind Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) country representative Wan-Hea Lee after a letter signed by Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon accused her of failing to respect Cambodia’s sovereignty.

Sokhon had taken umbrage at Lee’s public request for an explanation of the government’s decision to ban opposition leader Sam Rainsy from returning to Cambodia.

The letter, sent last Friday, also alluded to OHCHR’s lapsed memorandum of understanding with the Foreign Ministry, declaring the agency’s activities “illegitimate” until a new one was signed, something Sokhon said the government had made a “firm commitment” to.

Rupert Colville – a spokesman for High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, who was copied on the letter – said in emailed comments yesterday that memorandum or not, OHCHR would continue to operate.

“The universal mandate of the High Commissioner for Human Rights means he and his staff can meet with, deal with, and take up issues on behalf of anyone whose rights may have been violated based on international Human Rights Law – not on national legislation,” Colville wrote. “That is our normal work, and we do it all the time all across the world.”

OHCHR Cambodia’s Lee took a similarly strong line in an email to the Post, although she did note that she shared the government’s disappointment with the way her remarks on Rainsy’s exile were reported.

“When restrictions are imposed on this or any other human right, the UN Human Rights Committee – and indeed, the Cambodian public – will expect an explanation, which Cambodia is obliged to provide through many well established reporting channels,” Lee wrote. “This is not a personal view, these are voluntarily accepted human rights standards and reporting obligations.”

In an email, Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson described Sokhon’s letter as “a blatant ploy to try and and browbeat the UN Country Team to take action against Wan-Hea Lee”.

“She’s done nothing wrong and the UN should stand up to this intimidation,” Robertson wrote. “[Prime Minister] Hun Sen needs to stop playing these political games and order an immediate extension of the [memorandum of understanding].”

Ou Virak, president of the Future Forum think tank, said that there was likely more bark than bite in the government’s allusions to the lapsed memorandum.

“It’s getting a bit old, isn’t it?” Virak said. “They are not in any position to close the office or kick them out.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Thailand offers Covid-19 funding

    The Royal Embassy of Thailand contributed two million baht ($62,765) to Cambodia’s fight against Covid-19 on Wednesday, as the countries celebrated 70 years of diplomatic relations. The donation was presented by Thailand’s Ambassador to Cambodia Panyarak Poolthup to Prime Minister Hun Sen at a meeting

  • Crowded prisons will set free 10,000 inmates

    Close to 10,000 prisoners will be freed as part of the country’s prison overcrowding campaign, Minister of Interior Sar Kheng announced on Wednesday. The bulk of the inmates have mostly served their sentences and will continue to be monitored by local authorities after their release

  • Sanctuary head sued for not stopping forest occupations

    Four Bunong and an Adhoc official filed a joint lawsuit against Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary head Prum Vibol Ratanak at the Mondulkiri Provincial Court for failing to stop illegal land occupation and the buying and selling of forest land. Vibol Ratanak denies the allegations against

  • US and Cambodia talk cybersecurity ongoing assistance

    US Ambassador Patrick Murphy met with Minister of Interior Sar Kheng on Wednesday to discuss bilateral collaboration including on issues of civil society organisations and democracy in Cambodia. But cybercrime seemed to be the prevailing topic at the meeting. Murphy posted on Twitter: “Productive meeting

  • UN: Don’t let patent rows hamper virus vaccine

    The UN patent agency has hailed the push to create a coronavirus vaccine and make it globally available but warned against allowing copyright rows to overshadow and delay the process. “What we need in the first place here is innovation,” said Francis Gurry, the head

  • ‘Be vigilant on human trafficking’

    Minister of Interior Sar Kheng on Wednesday urged provincial authorities along the border to remain vigilant against the transportation of Cambodian migrant workers into Thailand. Speaking during an annual meeting of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking (NCCT), he said despite the closure of the