Peter Leuprecht, UN special representative for human rights to Cambodia, has resigned and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appointed a new representative from Kenya, the world body announced Wednesday.
Officials with the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Phnom Penh said Leuprecht had been planning to resign for several months for professional reasons and the decision was not politically motivated.
“To my understanding, it is a professional decision,” said Henrik Stenman, the office’s deputy country director. “You have to remember these people are not paid and they continue working at their normal positions [outside the UN].”
Leuprecht, an Austrian lawyer currently teaching at McGill University in Canada, was the third special representative appointed to Cambodia and took up his position in August 2000.
Yash Ghai, Leuprecht’s successor, is a constitutional lawyer currently working as a professor at the University of Hong Kong who once chaired a commission charged with reviewing the Kenyan constitution.
Stenman said the UN human rights office in Cambodia was still waiting to learn more about Ghai.
“Mr Ghai will have to draw up his own work plan,” Stenman said. “But we hope he can visit with us in the next little while.”
Attempts to reach Leuprecht and Ghai by e-mail were unsuccessful Wednesday.
Om Yentieng, president of the government’s Human Rights Commission, and an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, said he did not know Leuprecht had resigned and declined comment.
“I have no rights to evaluate his previous work because Cambodia is not his superior,” Om Yentieng said.
The government and Leuprecht have often butted heads and the conflict appeared to come to a head during a meeting at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva in April when Leuprecht accused the government of burying its head in the ground on issues of impunity and corruption. Leuprecht told the commission that democracy in Cambodia was sliding backwards
Cambodian ambassador in Geneva, Chheang Vun, said Leuprecht’s report did not reflect reality.
Kem Sokha, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, praised Leuprecht’s contributions, which he said were often overlooked by the international community.
“He did a very good job for Cambodia,” Kem Sokha said. “But the international community, after he gave a report, did not follow [up]. I think he might have been disappointed.”
Kem Sokha advised Ghai to stand up for human rights and to avoid compromise.
Canadian Ambassador Donica Pottie said Leuprecht was very effective at bringing attention to human rights problems in the country, especially on issues of land.
“We certainly paid attention to [his reports],” she added.