The government will write to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon informing the world body that Cambodian authorities will never again work with UN rights envoy Yash Ghai, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday.
Hun Sen said that Ghai and the UN had treated Cambodia badly, adding that the Cambodian government supported the military junta in Burma and would defend it at the UN Convention for Human Rights in Geneva next year.
“I will inform [Ban Ki-moon] that if you continue to use [Yash Ghai], Hun Sen will not work with him,” the prime minister said.
Hun Sen said that Ghai, a Kenyan, was unfit to comment on conditions regarding human rights in Cambodia as his own country was in far worse condition.
“[Kenya] is one hundred times worse than us, so please develop your country first,” Hun Sen said, adding that if Cambodia was not governed by the rule of law, as Ghai had said, the envoy would not have been able to travel freely.
“If there was no law, how could you travel to the provinces?” Hun Sen asked.
Hun Sen also launched a broadside against the UN, reminding the world body that it had once supported the Khmer Rouge and that it should compensate Cambodia for economic and trade sanctions it imposed against the then Vietnamese-occupied country in the 1980s.
“They must compensate for what Cambodia lost when they imposed the sanctions,” he said. “In the past they supported the Khmer Rouge to have a UN seat. Now we are in the process of prosecuting the Khmer Rouge, it is a slap in the face,” he added.
Reiterating Cambodia’s support for the junta, Hun Sen said he would send Minister for Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong to defend Burma at the UN human rights conference in Geneva.
“Give [the junta] time to work,” Hun Sen said, while claiming that some of the Buddhist monks who had led the recent demonstrations in Burma were charlatans.
Ghai wrapped up his 10-day mission to Cambodia on Monday with a news conference during which he expressed his deep concern over the government’s handling of land issues and failure to reform the legal system.
The outspoken envoy also slammed Cambodia’s international aid donor community for remaining silent in the face of a “deteriorating situation” in the country regarding land grabbing. Ghai said that international aid donors were “deeply implicated” in the actions of the government.
In an e-mail statement released Wednesday, UN Resident Coordinator Suomi Sakai said that the UN in Cambodia has a strong and productive partnership with the government.
The statement added that the UN in Cambodia recognized the government’s achievements to date and was committed to supporting the government in addressing the remaining development challenges.
“Respect for human rights continues to be one of the [UN’s] key priorities and we work closely with the Royal Government to assist legal and judicial reform in line with Cambodia’s Constitution and its obligations under international treaties,” Sakai said.
During his news conference on Monday, Ghai lamented that not one member of the government would meet with him during his 10-day visit. Senior government officials denied that the envoy was snubbed, but one official said that no one wanted to meet Ghai.
Despite the government’s uncharacteristically strenuous dismissal of Ghai assessment, members of the human rights and legal aid sectors in Cambodia said the UN envoy was correct in his analysis of the current situation.
“Criticism is necessary or there will be no improvement,” said Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodia Defenders Project, who added that he agreed with Ghai’s analysis that there was a lack of the rule of law in Cambodia.
Hun Sen was wrong to suggest that Ghai was unqualified to comment on Cambodia because of his Kenyan nationality, Sok Sam Oeun said.
“People with experience of a poor country that has a history of conflict are in the best position to analyze Cambodia,” he said.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said that Ghai’s allegation that the government tolerated land grabbing was completely inappropriate for a UN envoy.
“If we are condoning land grabbing, then why are international representatives and NGOs still working with us?” he asked.
“[Ghai’s] role should be to help the government improve the situation but all he does is criticize,” he said. “He is representing the opposition parties here rather than the UN.”