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UN rights envoy ends visit on a positive note

UN rights envoy ends visit on a positive note

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UN human rights special rapporteur Surya Subedi at a press conference Thursday, during which he reflected on his first mission to Cambodia. Photo by: SOVANN PHILONG

AT THE tail end of his first official mission to Cambodia, the UN's new special rapporteur for human rights sounded an optimistic note, describing his visit as "constructive and cordial".

In a statement Thursday, Surya Prasad Subedi, who held meetings with key officials during his 11-day visit, said the intent of the visit was to

familiarise himself with the country's human rights situation and to open channels of communication with senior officials.

"The challenge for a country such as Cambodia is to continue with the process of reform and democratisation with [a] degree of seriousness and sincerity," Subedi said in the statement.

"In this context, I was pleased to note that there was the capacity to acknowledge shortcomings and engage in a meaningful and constructive dialogue with my office to change and reform."

Bridging divides

The statement shied away from direct criticisms of the government, reflecting the nonconfrontational tone Subedi said he hoped to strike.

In an interview with the Post Wednesday, Subedi said  he wanted to focus on fact-finding and establishing himself as a broker between government and civil society representatives.

In the past, he said, "The approach has been a confrontational one to a certain extent, so my wish [is] to reduce confrontation and promote further coordination".

He added, "I have made that clear to most of the senior administrators I have met, and the signs have been encouraging."

  I will remain patient, keep my nerve, keep my cool and do my best.

Regarding the recent string of defamation lawsuits filed against government critics, Subedi said he would withhold judgement until he had reviewed documents gathered during his trip.

As one of the final stops of his visit, Subedi met Thursday morning with Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, who said the two held discussions on land rights and the independence of the judiciary.

"[Subedi] has confirmed to me ... that he will occupy a neutral position - not to criticise, but to learn and cooperate," Hor Namhong told reporters following the meeting.

"He reaffirmed to me that there is no country in the world which respects human rights perfectly. I think that we can cooperate and work well in the future."

Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann said he welcomed Subedi's visit, adding that Subedi could play an important role in reform efforts.

"I think that the visit of Subedi will help to improve the human rights situation in Cambodia if he has clear political will to work with the government," he said.

Subedi, who was to depart for the UK today, promised his approach would differ from that of his predecessor, Yash Ghai, who had a notoriously stormy relationship with the government before resigning his post in September last year.

"My approach in life has been to be persistent, to be patient, to be polite but firm. This is what my role will be," he said.

"I will not be provoked into any sort of unprofessional matters. I will remain patient, keep my nerve, keep my cool and do my best."

Subedi will report the findings of his trip to the UN Human Rights Council. He said he expects to return to Cambodia for a follow-up visit in November. 

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