In an annual briefing before the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva this week, the world body’s top representative in Cambodia described his “regret and frustration” at the government’s failure to sign off on a long-delayed agreement defining his role.
“The continued refusal of the government to renew the memorandum of understanding could be interpreted as a sign of reluctance…to cooperate with the international community and thus tarnish its international reputation,” Peter Leuprecht told the commission Tuesday.
Leuprecht’s remarks were echoed in a resolution, adopted by consensus late Wednesday, to renew a mandate for the UN rights office in Cambodia “without further delay.”
The commission noted “with regret the delays thus far encountered in the process and encouraged the [government] to cooperate with the office.”
The memorandum expired in February 2000. The UNCHR has been negotiating an agreement with the government since late 1999, according to Leuprecht’s annual written report.
UNCHR officials in Phnom Penh declined to comment on whether the failure to sign the memorandum has signaled a lack of commitment to the office by the government.
In February, Prime Minister Hun Sen slammed the UN rights office, accusing it of meddling in Cambodia’s sovereign affairs. The premier also said he was “too busy” to meet Leuprecht during the envoy’s weeklong visit to the country.
Repeated efforts this week to reach Cambodia’s top rights official, Om Yentieng, failed.
At issue, according to Leuprecht’s report, is a clause promising “functional immunity” to government employees participating in programs run by the UNCHR. Cambodia has continually balked at the requirement, which is meant to protect freedom of speech against threats of censure or imprisonment, according to the report.
Cambodia’s own statement to the commission made no allusion to the memorandum, instead making vague complaints about foreign intervention in Cambodia’s affairs.
“We regret the lack of tolerance and realism of certain administrations and institutions who do not hesitate to come out of their sphere of traditional expertise to impose their will on Cambodians,” stated Wednesday’s French-language release.
“For this cooperation to be efficient and fruitful, trust must not only be re-established within Cambodian society,” the release stated. “It must also come from the international community toward Cambodia, especially from certain players who continue to think that the country is still not normal.”
The government permits human rights training of its personnel, “but it is surprising and at the same time disappointing to hear that after six or seven years of human rights education by [nongovernmental organizations], no noteworthy progress has been noted by these same NGOs.
“This makes us legitimately wonder whether the students or the teachers are the most incompetent,” the release stated.
The delegation also thanked Leuprecht for acknowledging advances in human rights in Cambodia.
“Except for a few occasions [the report doesn’t] mention cases in which all members of the opposition parties are automatically victims [of human rights abuses] while the members of the ruling party are naturally in the wrong. …This is a positive and encouraging step.”
(Additional reporting by Michelle Vachon)