Top UN Rights Official’s Visit Begins Today

Louise Arbour, the UN’s High Com­missioner for Human Rights, is scheduled to arrive in Cambodia to­day for a week-long visit, the first by a high commissioner in almost four years, officials said Sunday.

Arbour’s visit comes amid strained relations between the Cam­bodian government and both the UN’s local human rights office and its special envoy for human rights in Cambodia, Yash Ghai.

After his second mission to Cam­bodia in March, Yash Ghai told a news conference that power in Cambodia was excessively concentrated in the hands of one man and that human rights could not flourish in this environment.

Like the statements of previous UN rights envoys, Ghai’s candid ap­praisal received sharp rebukes from Prime Minis­ter Hun Sen, who called for Ghai’s removal, and branded the envoy “rude” and a “long-term tourist.”

Local right groups said at the time that they supported Ghai’s assessment.

“[Arbour’s] visit has been planned for quite some time,” said Henrik Stenman, deputy director of the Office of the High Com­mis­sioner for Human Rights in Cam­bodia.

“[She] likes to visit field offices all over the world. There was a slot open in her calendar,” Sten­man said, adding that the high com­missioner was not visiting Cam­­bo­­dia in a show of support for Ghai.

The high commissioner al­ready expressed her support of Ghai in March, said Stenman, adding that Arbour will meet with King Norodom Sihamoni and Hun Sen on Thursday.

Government spokesman and In­formation Minister Khieu Ka­nha­­rith, who, at the time of Ghai’s com­ments, called the local UN rights office “the most lazy staff the UN has,” referred questions about Arbour’s visit to Hun Sen’s h­u­­man rights advisor Om Yen­tieng. Om Yentieng, who heads the government’s human rights commission, declined to comment on her visit.

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Sunday that Arbour was visiting to see for herself whether Ghai’s findings were correct.

“If Yash Ghai’s report was true, why did Samdech Hun Sen re­act?” Cheam Yeap asked.

He added that the prime minister may “set some conditions” on the UN rights office’s work in Cam­­­bodia, but would not elaborate.

Kem Sokha, director of the Cam­­bodian Center for Human Rights, said Sunday that he hop­ed Arbour would remind the prime minister and the government of their responsibility to re­spect human rights.

“From 1991 until now, we still have a lot of problems,” said Kem Sokha. “The land dispute is more and more every day. I want her to ex­plain this to the government,” he said.

“Tell [the government] about freedom of expression and they don’t care,” he added.

In terms of basic human rights such as food, housing, employment, education and health care, Cam­bodians have also fared poorly, Kem Sokha added.

Koul Panha, director of the Com­mittee for Free and Fair Elec­tions, said that Arbour should explain to the government that re­spect for human rights can bring eco­nomic benefits as well.

“They must understand that hu­man rights is not just politics,” he said.

“Human rights can also contribute to development,” he add­ed.

 

 

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