Prime Minister Hun Sen suggested local UN human rights officials move to Baghdad, just hours before a special envoy Tuesday was expected to deliver his assessment of Cambodia’s human rights situation to a panel in Geneva.
Cambodia does not need the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor the country, Hun Sen said at a human rights conference in Siem Reap town, because Cambodia plans to form its own national rights commission.
“But I don’t think they will go to [Baghdad] because it is a deadly place, there are bombings everyday,” said Hun Sen, whose remarks were broadcast on Apsara radio. “If the UN wants to move they can move, or they can stay because at least then we can collect rental fees,” he said.
UN Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia Yash Ghai was slated to address the UN Human Rights Council late Tuesday evening, unveiling a country-specific report. The council was slated to hear reports on Haiti and North Korea in the same session.
Margo Picken, country coordinator for the UN center for human rights in Phnom Penh, did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment Tuesday.
A previous poor assessment of Cambodia’s rights record by Yash Ghai enraged Hun Sen.
At a Phnom Penh press conference in March, Yash Ghai said fundamental regulations and institutions remain too weak in Cambodia and that “everything depends on one individual…and that is not really a precondition under which human rights can flourish.”
Hun Sen verbally attacked Yash Ghai several times over the following days, calling him “rude,” a “long-term tourist,” and demanding that the UN fire him.
On Tuesday, Hun Sen said the UN center for human rights’ presence has hindered homegrown efforts to form Cambodia’s own national rights panel.
The Siem Reap conference may be a step towards changing that. The conference, which ends today, was co-organized by both Kem Sokha, director of the Cambodia Center for Human Rights, and Om Yentieng, president of the government’s Cambodian Human Rights Committee, and an adviser to Hun Sen.
It was organized to collect ideas and recommendations on forming an independent national human rights commission. Delegates from independent rights commissions in the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia were among the participants.
The UN center for human rights issued a statement saying that such a commission should promote and protect all economic, social, civil, cultural and political rights. It should also cooperate closely with NGOs and establish effective working relations with the government, parliament and the judiciary, the UN said.
Kem Sokha said he had planned the formation of the independent commission since 1993 because other human rights commissions, those established by the National Assembly, the Senate and Om Yentieng, were far too political.
“They are not independent, they are politicians, so they cannot watch the government,” he said, adding that an independent national commission could effectively speak out against government abuses.
Kek Galabru, president of local rights group Licadho, said the conference was a first step towards creating an independent, national rights commission, but that its effectiveness hinged on the people currently in power.
“Even though we have a human rights commission the most important thing is political will,” she said.
Hun Sen said that he had initiated the human rights commission back in 1997 when he tried to donate $20,000 for its establishment, only to be turned down by Adhoc Director Thun Saray.
Thun Saray said by telephone that the prime minister had nominated him to chair the rights commission, but that he turned the offer down.
“I had to decline,” he said. “We need the law first to establish this kind of human rights commission.”
Thun Saray added that Hun Sen did agree in Siem Reap to allow NGOs to draft a law for the commission and that he views this as a good first step.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay also attended the conference and said that it was clear that the prime minister doesn’t feel kindly toward the UN rights center, but he is being more careful about how he expresses his opinions.
“He was very careful what he said, but Cambodia understands he doesn’t like the UN human rights commission in Phnom Penh,” Son Chhay said.