The Foreign Ministry yesterday warned Cambodia’s UN human rights office chief Christophe Peschoux that his position in Cambodia could be under threat if he makes further statements regarding what the government considers “sovereign” matters.
The statement marked the second time this year that a UN representative was threatened with expulsion over comments critical of government actions. The government in March warned UN Resident Coordinator Douglas Broderick that he risked being designated persona non grata.
In a letter to Mr Peschoux sent yesterday, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said the UN representative’s published comments about Monday’s deportation of two Thai nationals accused of anti-Thai-government terrorism were impermissible.
Mr Peschoux was quoted by The Daily on Wednesday as saying the UN human rights office was concerned that the deportations took place without proper legal procedures to ensure the protection of the Thai nationals’ human rights.
Mr Namhong’s letter to Mr Peschoux said the deportation conformed with the government’s policy against terrorism.
“If the remarks cited in the newspaper reflect your point of view, I have the duty to remind you [that] returning, or not, persons suspected of terrorist acts concerns the exclusive right of sovereignty of the Kingdom of Cambodia,” Mr Namhong’s letter said.
“I therefore ask you […] not to intervene in matters that strictly concern only the sovereignty of Cambodia.
“Such activity would from now on lead the Royal Government of Cambodia to pronounce on the suitability of your presence in Cambodia.”
The letter said evidence had been provided by Thai authorities implicating the two deportees and that the government “clearly” distinguished between victims of political persecution and “persons committing terrorist acts.”
The letter did not say whether such determinations could ever be subject to judicial review or by what procedure they are made.
Mr Peschoux said in an e-mail last night that he had not yet received Mr Nahmong’s letter and that he could not comment.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said last night that the letter had simply been sent to remind Mr Peschoux of his mandate in Cambodia.
“The letter says first to remind him and second to warn him that the government can take any action” against him, Mr Kuong said. Asked which exact comments by Mr Peschoux had prompted the letter, Mr Kuong said, “he himself will understand very well.”
In March, the government threatened to expel UN Resident Coordinator Douglas Broderick if the UN continued to make statements regarding Cambodia’s “internal affairs.”
The warning responded to a statement from the UN Country Team that recommended the government allow “sufficient time” for lawmakers and civil society organizations to analyze the government’s draft anticorruption law before it was debated in the National Assembly.
In April, the Foreign Ministry also sent a letter to all foreign diplomats in Cambodia, warning them to avoid interfering in the country’s internal affairs. The letter was an apparent response to remarks made by US Ambassador Carol Rodley.
Mr Peschoux himself drew the ire of Prime Minister Hun Sen last year, with the premier suggesting the UN should reconsider whether the OHCHR country representative should continue working in Cambodia. The premier alleged that Mr Peschoux had attempted to take former S-21 Chairman Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, to Belgium for trial in the late 1990s.
Yesterday, Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee Chairman Sok Sam Oeun said the UN human rights office in Phnom Penh must continue to show its independence by voicing its opinion on matters concerning human rights.
“It must not stop making statements,” Mr Sam Oeun said. “If it stops commenting, then what was the UN ever established for?”
SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that he was disappointed that the government had decided to send a warning letter to Mr Peschoux.
“The UN should be respected…because they have contributed a lot of money and time to help Cambodian people, and we should never forget that,” he said yesterday.
“We should let them participate in the process…and even if they are right or wrong, we should not stop them from making statements. We need them.”