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UN, government agree on memorandum

Wan Hea-Lee, country representative of the UNOHCHR, speaks at a press conference in Phnom Penh earlier this year.
Wan Hea-Lee, country representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia, speaks at a press conference in Phnom Penh earlier this year. Hong Menea

UN, government agree on memorandum

Cambodia on Monday renewed the United Nations human rights office’s long-lapsed memorandum of understanding, the new version of which accommodates government demands by including a pointed reference to a section of the UN charter precluding UN interference in domestic affairs.

The signing of the new two-year agreement, announced by the Foreign Affairs Ministry late yesterday afternoon, came less than a fortnight before a December 30 deadline set by Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ office to sign a new agreement on the government’s terms or face being kicked out of the country.

The new version differs from the previous by only 20 words, saying the OHCHR’s program and cooperation with the government shall be conducted “on the basis of the purposes of and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, in particular its Article 2, (7)”.

The section states the charter does not authorise the UN to intervene “in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state” and does not force states to submit “such matters to settlement”.

The paragraph also notes that the principle “shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures” under the charter’s Chapter 7, which deals with action concerning threats to the peace, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression.

OHCHR country representative for Cambodia Wan-Hea Lee had previously told the Post that the government had wanted the MoU to include a select reference to the section. UN negotiators, meanwhile, had said they would include the passage, but only if it were accompanied by the rest of the principles contained in the charter, which establish the UN’s role in protecting and promoting human rights.

Via email from Geneva, OHCHR media officer Elizabeth Throssell would say only that the parities had reached “a mutually acceptable agreement that takes into account the positions of both sides and preserves the integrity of the MOU, which largely underpins the agency’s mandate in Cambodia”.

“We welcome the fact that we were able to arrive at this agreement and look forward to continuing to offer our co-operation with the Cambodian Government to foster the promotion and protection of human rights in Cambodia,” Throssell said.

Though the renewal of MoUs with the OHCHR is usually a matter of routine, the government this year refused to renew the MoU, which lapsed last December.

Relations between the UN and government dived in April after a court issued an arrest warrant for a local UN staff member in connection with opposition leader Kem Sokha’s alleged affair.

Though the government belatedly acknowledged the staffer’s immunity, tensions have continued, with government officials repeatedly lashing out at UN criticism over the persecution of government critics, saying it amounted to interference in the Kingdom’s affairs.

In its statement yesterday, the Foreign Ministry said the MoU would extend the OHCHR’s “legitimate operational presence” in Cambodia for two years. “This renewal affirms the [government’s] unequivocal commitment to upholding and advancing principles of respect for fundamental freedoms and democracy as enshrined in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia,” it reads.

Contacted yesterday, government spokesman Phay Siphan said the new agreement would “strengthen human rights” while stopping to UN from meddling in the country.

“It is clear that the officers of the UN who come to work in Cambodia have no right to interfere in the internal affairs of Cambodia. It is very important,” Siphan said.

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