Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday said he may reduce the number of meetings he holds with the UN human rights envoy each year due to comments made by the special rapporteur at a news conference in Phnom Penh last week.
Mr Hun Sen questioned why Surya Subedi, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, had told reporters on Thursday he was “disappointed” at not meeting the premier during his 10-day fact-finding mission.
Mr Hun Sen reportedly missed the meeting scheduled for Thursday because he had been suffering from a cold. The premier recovered a day after Mr Subedi’s departure, according to a CPP lawmaker.
Since his appointment in March last year, Mr Subedi has made cooperative overtures toward the government. Mr Hun Sen’s remarks yesterday were the first sign that relations with the UN envoy could be starting to sour.
Government relations with international human rights monitors have invariably been fraught since they began in 1993. However the government promised to cooperate with the UN human rights envoy after ostracizing Mr Subedi’s predecessor, Yash Ghai, who stepped down in 2008.
Addressing a crowd gathered yesterday at the National Institute of Education to mark the third anniversary of the Cambodian Veterans’ Association, the prime minister gave Mr Subedi a warning on protocol, saying the UN envoy should have used a different phrase to describe his thoughts on the cancelled meeting.
“I hope he will correct his words,” Mr Hun Sen said. “We could use other words: ‘that [he’s] so sorry that he did not meet the prime minister and next time hopes to meet the prime minister.’
“Or if you want to be more polite: ‘I hope that the prime minister’s health will recover soon,” Mr Hun Sen said.
Mr Hun Sen said Mr Subedi’s remarks had led him to consider reducing the number of times he meets with the envoy each year.
“I take this reason as grounds to consider how many times per year I should meet this representative, since three times per year seems to be a lot,” he said.
“In fact, whenever he comes I have to meet [with him], but now it seems there is no respect towards each other regarding this problem. Next time I might have an attitude that maybe [we should] meet once a year.”
In a statement made at the end of his mission last week, Mr Subedi said that the “judiciary in Cambodia is facing tremendous challenges in delivering justice for the people of the country, especially the poor and marginalized.”
While making no direct references to Mr Subedi’s words on the state of the country’s judiciary, Mr Hun Sen appeared to say the UN was stating the obvious.
“Don’t try to tell me that it is raining while I am in the rain,” Mr Hun said.
Christophe Peschoux, country representative for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which provides assistance to Mr Subedi, wrote in an e-mail yesterday that Mr Subedi had so far visited Cambodia three times since being appointed to his position.
“He has thus far met the prime minister officially on two occasions, in June last year and in January 2010,” Mr Peschoux wrote.
Mr Peschoux had no comment on the premier’s remarks.
Mr Subedi, who acts independently of the UN human rights office, did not respond to e-mailed questions yesterday.
Pung Chhiv Kek, president of the human rights organization Licadho, said yesterday by e-mail that reducing the number of meetings between Mr Hun Sen and Mr Subedi could have a detrimental effect on Cambodia’s development.
“Dialogue between the government and UN was clearly set up to tackle remaining problems in Cambodia’s governance and society,” Ms Chhiv Kek wrote.
“The principle of this dialogue, which was part of the 1991 Paris Agreement, was accepted by everyone as recognition of remaining problems and the relevance of UN experts helping to find solutions.
“In that logic…reducing the frequency of dialogue would be a contradiction and may only have a negative impact on the country’s harmonious development.”
Yim Sovann, SRP spokesman, said that Mr Hun Sen needed to continue meeting regularly with the UN rights envoy to discuss “the appalling nature of Cambodia’s human rights.”
“I think that as a government leader, he should meet with Mr Subedi” regularly, Mr Sovann said.
In his speech yesterday, Mr Hun Sen also made reference to villagers from around Cambodia who attempted to deliver a petition to the prime minister’s residence in Phnom Penh last week, calling on the premier to intervene in myriad land, logging and fishing disputes. Mr Hun Sen questioned how the village representatives from 24 cities and provinces were able to organize themselves so effectively, and indicated that he suspected NGOs had coordinated the protestors.
“Thanks to all the people holding my picture to support the land policy and to let me know about the land dispute,” he said. “But how come this organization has [organized] all things at the same time…[and could] collect all the representatives from the 24 cities and provinces? Is this the people’s will, or the organization’s design?”
Mr Subedi, a professor of human rights law in Britain, was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council last year as part of international human rights scrutiny begun at the conclusion of the Untac peacekeeping mission in 1993.
Those appointed as the UN rights envoy to Cambodia have held rocky relationships with Mr Hun Sen since the late 1993. Mr Hun Sen in 1997 took issue with then-envoy Thomas Hammarberg after he used the word “coup” to describe fighting in July 1997–when CPP forces troops loyal to then-Second Prime Minister Hun Sen routed forces loyal to then-First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh who then fled Cambodia.
Mr Hun Sen later called the next rights envoy, Peter Leuprecht, “stupid” in response to a report critical of the government’s process of relocating villagers evicted from their homes.
Mr Leuprecht’s successor, Yash Ghai, resigned from his position in September 2008, after a turbulent three-year term in which he was never granted a meeting with Mr Hun Sen.