PM TellS UN Envoy that Definition of Rights too Narrow, Should Include Typhoons

In a meeting yesterday with the UN human rights envoy, Prime Minister Hun Sen called for a broader definition of human rights, pointing to the economic recession and natural disasters as the type of harm to the public that should be included when speaking of the rights of human beings, an attendee said yesterday.

Summarizing the main points of a two-hour, closed-door meeting between the premier and UN right envoy Surya Subedi, the president of the government’s human rights committee, Om Yentieng, said the premier said there is too heavy a focus on issues of freedom of speech in the context of individual rights.

“In this meeting [Mr Hun Sen] raised two challenges: First, the world economic crisis, and second, natural disasters such as Typhoon Ketsana and flooding. [Mr Hun Sen] regarded them as a violation of human rights [in that] they reduce the services each person is supposed to receive. He wants a broader understanding on human rights rather than [focusing] merely on freedom of expression. Human rights should have a broader meaning than this,” Mr Yentieng said.

Mr Yentieng noted that those who claim there is a lack of freedom of speech in Cambodia prove there is plenty by the ease with which they can make such criticism.

“They say they do not have freedom of expression…while their tongues are flipping in the country and overseas,” he said.

Referring to the discussion–which he attended with Christophe Peschoux, country representative for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights–as “constructive,” Mr Yentieng commended Mr Subedi’s reports, saying they “describe more positive things than Mr Peschoux’s.”

Of Mr Peschoux’s report, Mr Yentieng said: “the same as the reports from the opposition voice…. That’s why samdech prime minister had clearly said that the UN Human Rights office in Phnom Penh looks like a part of the opposition alliance.”

Mr Peschoux declined to comment.

In June, Mr Subedi told reporters that he was interested in bridging the gap between civil society and the government. Yesterday, according to Mr Yentieng, the premier and Mr Subedi discussed the possibility of a single representative to be elected from among the country’s approximately 3,000 NGOs, who would serve on a planned human rights board.

Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, said yesterday by telephone that it was difficult to say whether a single person could represent the interests of every NGO, and that this would depend on a fair selection of the representative and the mechanism by which he or she would report back, as well as what their mandate was.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Subedi said that strengthening state institutions which deal with human rights would be the focus of his second mission but stressed that there had been progress made since his appointment in March last year on the four major issues to which has so far called attention: evictions, freedom of expression, rule of law, and better cooperation between civil society and government.

When asked whether specific issues related to those four, such as the imprisonment of journalists and the long-awaited anticorruption law, were raised, Mr Subedi declined to go into detail, saying that he would discuss them during a press conference at the end of his trip.


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