UN Appoints New Human Rights Representative

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.


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