The UN Human Rights Council has selected a shortlist of four candidates to replace former UN envoy Yash Ghai and has tentatively chosen a professor of international law from Lebanon as its favorite, according to sources at the Council in Geneva.
The list represents the choices of a group of five ambassadors advising the 47-member Council, which in March is to announce its choice to replace Ghai, who resigned in September, saying the international community had failed to support him in his tempestuous relations with the government in Phnom Penh.
“It is now for the Council secretariat to communicate the list to the president” of the Council, said Momar Gueye, minister-counselor at the Senegalese permanent mission to the UN in Geneva.
However, Council President and Nigerian Ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi, who holds the ultimate power to make the appointment, has yet to see the shortlist, which comprises former European Union representative to Afghanistan Francesc Vendrell, former Indonesian Attorney-General Marzuki Darusman, former adviser to the government of Nepal Surya Prasad Subedi and Osman El Hajje, currently professor of international law at Jinan University in Lebanon.
Uhomoibhi is to receive the list by Feb 2.
According to a source familiar with the discussions, the “consultative group” of five ambassadors has chosen El Hajje as their preferred candidate, a preference that carries significant influence in the decision-making process. The group currently comprises ambassadors from Senegal, Spain, Uruguay, Bulgaria and Sri Lanka, though only Senegal and Uruguay are members of the current Council.
Reached by telephone in Geneva on Monday, El Hajje declined to comment pending the Council’s official adoption of the list, which was taken from a pool of over 200 applications submitted to the Council late last year.
Consultative group officials declined Monday to discuss how they had arrived at the shortlist or to say why El Hajje had been put forward as a preferred choice.
El Hajje, 64, has spent a career traveling between different human rights organizations in Europe and published widely on subjects including poverty, development and the interaction between Islam and human-rights law.
The other contenders also have impressive resumes.
Originally from Spain and author in 1974 of the first confidential UN report on human rights in Chile, Vendrell has established human-rights field operations and truth commissions in El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, East Timor, Afghanistan and Cambodia, according to currula vitae the candidates submitted to the Council.
Darusman is a member of the Sri Lankan presidential commission to investigate human rights abuses and co-chair of the Asean working group tasked with creating a regional human rights body.
Subedi, who lectures on international law at the University of Leeds in the UK and practices law in London, has been a Nepali delegate to the UN and to the International Labor Organization.
Since the creation of the first mandate for a UN human rights envoy to Cambodia in 1993, the government and all four of the office’s previous holders have had stormy relations.
Cambodia’s representative to Geneva in 2007 went as far as to call for the removal of Ghai.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith referred questions Monday to Senior Minister and president of the government’s human rights committee Om Yentieng, who could not be reached.
Following Ghai’s resignation in March, Prime Minister Hun Sen pledged to cooperate with Ghai’s replacement.
Sources contacted in Geneva in recent days said they were well aware of previous frictions between the Cambodian government and UN rights envoys.
“We were very aware of the problems between the mandate holders and the government,” said a Spanish diplomat in Geneva who declined to be named. “We would like to be clear that we will work with the mandate holder and we are sure that all these candidates will be able to develop this mandate,” he said.
Following Ghai’s resignation, the Council modified the Cambodia mandate from a special representative chosen by the UN secretary-general, to a special rapporteur, chosen by the council.
The appointment of a new envoy is now likely to be the subject of lobbying and discussions in Geneva ahead of a final decision by Nigeria, which as the Council’s president has the power to choose a candidate from outside the list. However, observers say this is unlikely.
Nigerian officials in Geneva were unavailable for comment.
(Additional reporting by Yun Samean)