Cambodia has welcomed the appointment of Nepali barrister Surya Subedi as the new UN special rapporteur to Cambodia for human rights and, in an apparent reference to years of public discord with his predecessors, called on Subedi to adhere to a new code of conduct for human rights envoys.
Subedi, whose appointment was unanimously approved by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday, emerged as the Cambodian government’s preferred candidate after a selection process that began late last year.
“It is hoped that the special rapporteur will perform his duties in a spirit of cooperation and good partnership through the code of conduct” for rights envoys, Cambodian Ambassador to Geneva Sun Suon said in a statement to the council Wednesday. “His work should be guided by those principles that ensure universality, objectivity, impartiality and non-politicization.”
“We believe that the new special rapporteur would adhere to the approach of constructive and fruitful dialogues in order to further advance human rights to which Cambodia attaches high importance,” he added.
The 47-member Human Rights Council adopted in 2007 a code of conduct requiring all 38 human rights envoys to remain independent, observe host nations’ laws, avoid using their posts for private gain, and show “restraint, moderation and discretion” in their work. Human Rights Watch in 2007 called the code fair but “overly intrusive.”
Subedi replaces former UN Special Representative Yash Ghai, from Kenya, who resigned in September and announced to the Council that he had not been supported by the UN or the international community in his tempestuous relations with the Cambodian government. Prime Minister Hun Sen and nearly all Cabinet members refused to meet with Ghai during his three-year term. Following Ghai’s resignation, Hun Sen pledged to cooperate with his replacement.
Subedi, a professor of international law at the University of Leeds and a practicing lawyer in the United Kingdom, said Wednesday that he believed Cambodian authorities would cooperate with him.
“My objective as an independent, impartial, neutral and professional person would be to help the government of Cambodia to fulfill its commitments under international human rights treaties. Therefore, I do expect that Cambodian authorities would cooperate with me since I would be taking a constructive and cooperative approach to strengthen the rule of law, promote and protect human rights and make democracy stronger in Cambodia,” he wrote in an e-mail.
“As a professor of international and human rights law, I have studied closely the evolving situation in Cambodia for a long time and throughout my academic career,” he wrote, adding that he had also taught “a number of Cambodian students who now occupy high positions in both the government and the non-governmental human rights sector.”
Cambodia is one of only eight nations in the world to which the UN has assigned country-specific human rights envoys. Subedi is the fifth special envoy since 1993 to be assigned to Cambodia with a mandate to report on the human rights situation and assist the government in improving its respect for basic liberties and rights.
As part of its reform process, the Human Rights Council has changed existing rights envoy positions from special representatives, which were appointed by the UN Secretary-General, to special rapporteurs appointed by the Council.
A diplomatic source in Geneva familiar with discussions held during the selection process said Cambodian authorities had expressed a preference for Subedi, one of four candidates short-listed by an advisory group of five ambassadors who had instead expressed “strong support” for Lebanese law professor Osman El Hajje.
“Cambodia’s views were very important,” said the diplomat, who asked not to be named.
Christophe Peschoux, country representative for the Cambodia Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which acts as a secretariat to UN envoys, said Thursday that a visit to Cambodia had yet to be scheduled for Subedi.