U NITED Nations human rights staff are to remain in Cambodia for two more years, following
a visit by a senior UN representative who met with a host of Cambodian officials
- excluding the Second Prime Minister.
Geneva-based UN High Commissioner for Human Rights José Ayala Lasso said he
had been "under the impression" that Hun Sen would be able to meet him
but in the end he had been "unable" to.
Lasso took exception to journalists' suggestions that Hun Sen had 'canceled' their
meeting, but refused to explain why the pair could not meet.
But Lasso, during a five-day visit to Phnom Penh ending Mar 2, did meet with National
Assembly chairman Chea Sim, First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Foreign
Minister Ung Huot, Interior Ministers Sar Kheng and You Hockry and other officials.
Lasso, speaking at a press conference, said: "I came to visit the government,
I did visit the government, and I am entirely satisfied."
Of Hun Sen, Lasso said: "Of course I would have liked to have more meetings."
Lasso signed a memorandum of understanding with Ung Huot for the UN Center for Human
Rights (UNCHR), whose mandate in Cambodia expired this month, to remain for two more
The move soothed fears that the government would insist on the departure of the UNCHR,
following the co-Prime Ministers' letter to the UN a year ago asking that the center
be "phased out".
Lasso said the memorandum of understanding was a "bona fide agreement"
which allowed the UNCHR in Cambodia - the second-largest UN human rights presence
in the world, after Rwanda - to keep operating without conditions.
He praised the "excellent cooperation of the government" with the UNCHR
in the past, and said the new agreement would strengthen that relationship.
The High Commissioner expressed concern about human rights abuses such as arbitrary
detention and torture in Cambodia, but said these were "isolated" cases
and not government policy.
Lasso said he had raised with the government the recent trial of Prince Norodom Sirivudh
and the banning of Sam Rainsy's Khmer Nation Party. But, in response to journalists'
questions, he evaded offering opinions on these particular issues.
On Sirivudh, he said: "I think that a country that is going to be internationally
respected needs to follow the rule of law. I hope that the due process will be put
Reluctant to say much, Lasso eventually agreed with the suggestion that he had yet
to be convinced that Sirivudh had been convicted in accordance with international
In reference to a possible appeal by Sirivudh, he said: "The trial's not over
yet, so let's think about that point...I think you and I want the same result...let's
not jeopardize that."
Lasso said he considered it the role of NGOs to "investigate" and "denounce"
human rights abuses. The UNCHR's job was to establish a "permanent dialogue"
with the government, to "complement", not "duplicate", the work
Lasso said he had, in talks with the government, "mentioned in a general way
that it was necessary to have a law that will strengthen the multi-party democracy."
When pressed on the Khmer Nation Party, he said: "I hope that if there is no
law banning the party, there will be no banning of the party."
Lasso said that, in his talks with Ranariddh, the Prime Minister had expressed the
belief that "democracy and development should go together". Ranariddh had
also given assurances that no journalists would be prosecuted for insulting the government.
Government officials had accepted the need to have a replacement appointed for Australian
Judge Michael Kirby, who recently resigned as the UN Secretary-General's human rights
representative to Cambodia, Lasso said.
Ung Huot said this week that relations between the UNCHR and the government were
better than a year ago. UNCHR staff now "understand very well that their job
is to cooperate, educate, assist us and so on," he said.
The UNCHR's role - and particularly whether it should concentrate on human rights'
education and "technical assistance", versus the documentation of human
rights abuses - has been a bone of contention for some time.