Concluding his last official visit as UN special envoy for human rights to Cambodia, Thomas Hammarberg on Wednesday said while some tangible progress was made in his tenure, much work needs to be done.
“Reasonable political stability during the last 10 months or so…has opened up some reform work,” said Hammarberg, a Swedish diplomat whose more than three-year posting will conclude at year’s end.
“But the problems are still huge. Really huge.”
Top on his list of concerns when he addresses the UN General Assembly next week on human rights in Cambodia, he said, is how sorely Cambodia lacks a rule of law.
After visiting prisons and courts and talking to rights workers in several provinces on this 10-day visit, Hammarberg said numerous violations persist.
For one, he questioned the lack of distinction between military and civilian courts—particularly in the cases of former Khmer Rouge cadre Ta Mok and Duch and two Sam Rainsy Party members suspected in last year’s B-40 rocket attack in Siem Reap.
Both sets of suspects now await trial in military court but did not allegedly commit military crimes, Hammarberg said.
“Have they violated discipline within the military?” he asked rhetorically. “There seems to be a need for the government to clarify why they brought them to military prison.”
He also expressed concern over an apparent rise in vigilante justice due to people’s mistrust of a court system where a judgment can be bought.
Highlighted by a local human rights report earlier this year and acknowledged by co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng last week, the increase in street lynching should be taken seriously, Hammarberg said.