Government Claims All Is Forgiven in Rita Reddy Uproar

They say a soft answer turneth away wrath. In Rita Reddy’s case, a good letter of explanation doesn’t hurt either.

Because it looks like Reddy, the new head of the UN’s local Office of the High Com­missioner for Human Rights, has convinced the government to give her a chance to prove herself.

“She had a very bad start, but I hope she can put this behind her and people can forget about it,’’ government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Monday. “The government is willing to give her another chance.’’

Reddy ignited a firestorm barely a month into the job when, according to an interview published in the Phnom Penh Post in mid-March, she suggested Cam­bodians might have a genetic predisposition to violence.

The government’s news agen­cy, Agence Khmere de Presse, questioned whether a person capable of such a statement “des­erves to be chief of the UN Cen­ter for Human Rights in Cam­bodia” on April 4.

The Phnom Penh Post interview, conducted by managing editor Peter Sainsbury, quoted Reddy as saying she believed the level of violence in Cambodia was worse than that in Bosnia, where she had previously been posted.

“There has been a bloody history in Cambodia—maybe it has become incorporated into their genes,’’ she reportedly said.

Reddy insisted Tuesday she had been misquoted, but said she didn’t want to comment further because there had been such an uproar over the story and it was best “to let sleeping dogs lie.’’

Sainsbury insisted that she wasn’t misquoted, and that the story accurately reflected her views. “I was taking shorthand,’’ he said. “The notes are all there.’’

Furious letters poured into the Phnom Penh Post after the interview was published. The NGO Forum on Cambodia said she was flat wrong; one man called her remarks “horribly ignorant,’’ a woman called them “offensive.’’

A letter signed by seven hum­anitarian and development organizations and 32 individuals spoke of their “astonishment and concern.”

The paper also printed a long letter from Reddy, who insisted the article “does not accurately reflect my comments and views on several issues.’’ She said she was quoted “out of context’’ and that her remarks had been so condensed as to “give rise to a misleading impression.’’

The twice-monthly paper stood by the story, publishing an editor’s note that said Reddy’s quotes “were verbatim transcripts of the reporter’s notes taken down in shorthand.’’

The controversy gathered momentum when the Khmer press weighed in. On April 2 Chakraval (Universe) denounced Reddy for heaping “serious scorn on the whole Cambodian people.’’

Then there was the government press agency commentary.

Reddy poured water on the flames. Khieu Kanharith said she wrote a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen, explaining she “doesn’t have any intention to look down on or harm the Cam­bodians.’’

He said that was basically good enough for him, especially since there is no way the government can determine whether she was properly quoted or not. “We don’t have the full interview. We don’t have all the information,’’ he said.

Om Yentieng, chairman of the government’s human rights committee and a key aide to Hun Sen, said Reddy also told the committee during a meeting that she “never had any intention to insult the Cam­bodians.’’

On April 6, the country’s largest Khmer newspaper, Ras­mei Kampuchea (Light of Cam­bodia), took editorial note of Reddy’s letter to Hun Sen denying she had said such things about the Cambodian people.

But if she had made the remarks, the newspaper said, “strongest criticism and opposition’’ are called for, because such negative remarks tell the world Cambodia is inherently violent, which would have “immeasurable’’ consequences.

Thun Saray, director of the local human rights organization Adhoc, said Tuesday that Reddy had spoken privately to a group of NGO leaders about the matter, and answered their questions.

“I think we should forget it, as far as possible,’’ he said. “She already made a correction in the Phnom Penh Post. It’s time to move on.’’


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