U.N. human rights envoy Surya Subedi has failed to keep abreast of the achievements made to Cambodia’s human rights record and is using the U.N.’s name in order to further his own personal agenda, Om Yentieng, chairman of the government’s Human Rights Committee, said Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters after two hours of talks with Mr. Subedi at the Council of Ministers, Mr. Yentieng said he had urged the special rapporteur—who is on his ninth human rights fact-finding mission to Cambodia—to open his eyes and ears, and not just his mouth when assessing the human rights situation in the country.
“The U.N. has its own mechanism, but I am afraid that a certain individual is using the U.N.’s term to do the wrong thing,” Mr. Yentieng said, apparently referring to the envoy.
“Surya Subedi said that his advice has no aim to force anything; that the government can take it or leave it. His mouth says so, but his actions oppress [the government],” he said.
Mr. Yentieng said his Human Rights Committee had sent a midterm report to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council in Geneva last year outlining progress the country had made on a set of 91 human rights recommendations Cambodia accepted in 2009.
However, Mr. Yentieng said, Mr. Subedi had not bothered to read the report and, therefore, is likely to repeat himself with regard to human rights recommendations when he makes future reports.
“I told him that based on his report on his recommendations, it is evident that he had not read our response report sent to him,” Mr. Yentieng continued. “The report that we did in 2012 on human rights, he did not even read a line.”
“Boeng Kak, land concessions, elections and the court; we wrote the report point by point, yet he asked the same questions, which means he had not read a page—not even a line,” he said.
“He asked me for a copy today, which means that he did not get it.”
Mr. Subedi is shaping up to be the third U.N. envoy and at least the fourth U.N. human rights official to come under personal fire for their candid assessments of the poor human rights situation in Cambodia.
Mr. Subedi’s predecessor, Kenyan law professor Yash Ghai, resigned from his position in September 2008, a year after one of his reports said “deliberate and systematic violations of human rights have become central to the government’s hold on power,” and had also said that the judiciary lacked independence.
Government officials repeatedly lambasted Mr. Ghai during his three-year term. Prime Minister Hun Sen called Ghai “rude,” “deranged” and a “long-term tourist.”
In his resignation letter, Mr. Ghai said he hoped his successor would have more support from the U.N. and international community, and that he felt he had to fend for himself against a tirade of abuse from the government.
“I cannot say that I had a great deal of such support and this merely encouraged Cambodia’s Prime Minister, Mr. Hun Sen, constantly to insult me,” Mr. Ghai said in his letter.
It was a rocky road for Mr. Ghai’s predecessor too.
Mr. Hun Sen referred to Austrian law professor Peter Leuprecht, who served as special rapporteur from 2000 until his resignation in 2005, as “stupid.”
In reports written during his tenure, Mr. Leuprecht spoke about forced evictions and recalled meeting people who had been relocated to “appalling conditions on heavily mined land.”
Mr. Leuprecht also noted the “growing concentration of power in the hands of the prime minister behind a shaky facade of democracy.”
Mr. Hun Sen also took on the U.N.’s human rights body during U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Cambodia in October 2010, calling for the closure of the U.N.’s local human rights office and the removal of the office’s country representative Christophe Peschoux, who he said was a mouthpiece for the opposition who did not cooperate with the government.
In March 2011, the U.N. transferred Mr. Peschoux to Geneva, but said it was not as a result of government pressure.
As far back as 1997, Mr. Hun Sen said then-U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson had exaggerated reported extra-judicial killings following that year’s factional fighting when tanks fought battles on the streets of Phnom Penh.
Speaking briefly to reporters after his meeting Wednesday, Mr. Subedi said he had talked to Mr. Yentieng about the progress being made regarding Cambodia’s Universal Periodic Review on human rights, which must be finished and filed with the U.N.’s Human Rights Council in October.
It “came up during discussions” and with help from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia, “the process is moving forward,” he said.
Asked later in an email about Mr. Yentieng’s comments that he was using the U.N.’s name to further his own personal agenda, Mr. Subedi did not immediately respond.
Mr. Yentieng also attempted to discredit Mr. Subedi’s work on Wednesday by claiming that the standard of his reports are “even poorer than the football referees in Europe.”
It is not the first time that Mr. Yentieng has taken aim at Mr. Subedi’s fact-finding missions to Cambodia, which have focused primarily on the human rights impact of elections, land concessions and the independence of the judiciary.
In September, Mr. Yentieng lashed out in the wake of Mr. Subedi’s assessment of the Cambodian situation, which was presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council. He accused Mr. Subedi of pandering to the opposition party and trying to stifle the work of the national court system through his examination of the judiciary’s independence. On Wednesday, Mr. Yentieng again visited the topic of the opposition, saying Mr. Subedi’s reports are used as ammunition against the government.
“His reports have been used for political interest—the opposition party,” he said.
“They are confrontational reports, not reports to solve the problem.”
Mr. Subedi has always maintained that his missions to Cambodia—which are all unpaid—are conducted independently and that his reports are a reflection of all segments of society.