Prime Minister Hun Sen may not extend the mandate of the UN’s human rights office in Cambodia if the office does not work more closely with the government, CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Monday.
Conditions for Hun Sen’s continued support of the UN office could include greater cooperation with the government’s human rights committee, which is headed by Hun Sen’s advisor Om Yentieng, said Cheam Yeap, adding that the UN could offer “constructive criticism” with recommendations and seek greater comment from the government.
“So far the [UN] office is closer to the NGOs than the government and has relied more on the NGOs’ reports,” he said. “It is not fair to do so.”
Louise Arbour, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, was scheduled to arrive in Siem Reap province on Monday evening to start a weeklong visit.
Arbour arrives as relations between the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia and the government have been severely tested.
In March, Hun Sen denounced human rights envoy Yash Ghai and called for him to be sacked after he told a news conference that one man in Cambodia held too much power and that human rights had suffered as a result.
“The UN office’s report should have been as detailed and balanced as the EU’s report,” said Cheam Yeap, referring to a less withering assessment by a European parliamentary mission in April. “As soon as Yash Ghai steps on the first step, the stairs break,” Cheam Yeap added.
The European delegation initially criticized Ghai for his downcast assessment of human rights in Cambodia, but later wrote to clarify that they supported and respected the work of the rights envoy.
OHCHR officials declined to comment on Cheam Yeap’s remarks Monday.
The mandate of the UN rights office in Cambodia would normally be up for review in June. However, in March the UN replaced its Human Rights Commission with a new, 47-member Human Rights Council. It is not clear when the council will take up the office’s mandate in Cambodia, according to Henrik Stenman, deputy OHCHR director in Cambodia.
Asked Sunday if Cambodia would support a continued OHCHR presence, Om Yentieng referred questions to the Foreign Affairs Ministry. A spokesman for the ministry declined to comment Monday.
Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Center, said he found Hun Sen’s hostility toward Ghai to be “very worrying” and was concerned that the UN’s office could be hindered in its work.
“I am afraid,” Yeng Virak said. “But I really encourage [OHCHR] to do what they’re supposed to do.”