In a meeting with the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, the Cambodian government said it had extended the mandate of the human rights office in Cambodia for a further two years, while requesting “cooperation” on rights issues before it makes evaluations.
While an Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) “welcomed” the move, a local rights activist pointed out that as an independent institution, the OHCHR “does not require agreement from the government” to report on Cambodian issues.
According to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s official Facebook page on Tuesday, in a meeting in Geneva between him and Bachelet, a former Chilean president, the government signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with her to extend the mandate of the human rights office in Cambodia for two more years.
Hun Sen said that at the meeting, Bachelet thanked the Cambodian government for extending the office’s mandate.
“HE Michelle Bachelet acknowledged the development in Cambodia in terms of human rights, especially the rights of women, children and workers, and in education and regarding non-discrimination."
“She said that all countries had their own problems no matter how developed they were. Bachelet said she will include Cambodia’s good points in the OHCHR report on Cambodia,” Hun Sen said.
He said he had invited Bachelet to pay a formal visit to Cambodia at an appropriate time.
The prime minister said although both sides did not always agree, cooperation between Cambodia and the UN on human rights issues would continue to move forward, especially with the extension of its office’s mandate in the Kingdom for a further two years.
“In the bilateral meeting, Samdech [Hun Sen] asked for cooperation on Human Rights issues between the UN and Cambodia [in order to better understand each other] before making evaluations . . . [with] discussion in advance,” the Facebook post said.
The OHCHR has regularly wrangled with Cambodia regarding its findings on human rights violations, with its reports rejected by the government.
In 2016 before its renewal, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned that the UN human rights office in the Kingdom would close if a new MoU between the two parties was not signed by the end of 2016.
The signing of the MOU stalled for almost 10 months as the government insisted that an updated version include pointed references to the concept of “non-interference” lifted from the UN charter.
Simon Walker, an OHCHR representative, told The Post on Tuesday that the body welcomed the new agreement with the Cambodia government.
“We welcome the extension of the MOU with the government. We work closely with our government counterparts and discuss our activities and observations with them on a periodic basis,” he said.
However, although rights group Adhoc’s spokesman Soeung Sen Karona welcomed the development, calling it a “good thing”, he questioned the government requesting agreement on the OHCHR’s activities.
“I notice that the High Commissioner has cooperated as well, such as on reforms of the justice system, and we also see other projects in which the UN has cooperated with the government."
“But reports by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, I believe are independent reports reflecting [what is happening] in Cambodia, so [the OHCHR] does not require the government’s agreement to publish its reports,” he said.
During his visit to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development held in Geneva from Monday to Wednesday under the theme Investing in Sustainable Development, the prime minister also had meetings with the director-general of the World Intellectual Property Organisation, Francis Gurry.