Discussions were to begin today in Geneva on whether and in what form to continue the existence of UN special envoys to Cambodia, who have studied and criticized human rights practices here for the past 15 years.
Observers and officials Tuesday expressed cautious optimism that the mandate of the Special Representative of the UN secretary-general would be continued but said it may be modified from the form it has held since 1993.
Cambodian officials did not respond to requests for comment this week, but the government in December wrote to the UN to say that such a mandate may no longer be necessary as Cambodia was “moving smoothly and irreversibly” in the right direction.
The government has had rocky relations with all four UN envoys, most notably with the current special representative, Yash Ghai, whom Prime Minister Hun Sen has refused to meet.
Since its first session in 2006, the UN’s 47-member Human Rights Council has preserved most of the handful of human rights mandates that are specific to individual countries and that were created by the Human Rights Commission, the Council’s predecessor.
However, critics have said that like its predecessor, the Council has sometimes stifled the scrutiny of human rights violators for clearly political reasons.
Egypt, a country elected to the Council with Cambodia’s support, led a successful effort in March to discontinue the mandate of the UN’s independent expert for human rights in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. The Congolese government was opposed to the mandate’s renewal.
Both Kek Galabru, president of local human rights group Licadho, and Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc, traveled to Geneva this month to lobby Council members in favor of preserving Cambodia’s country mandate, staff at the organizations said.
Akio Isomata, minister for political affairs at the Japanese mission to the UN in Geneva, said Tuesday that Japan, which has traditionally drafted resolutions to renew the envoy’s mandate in Cambodia, supported continuing it.
However Cambodian officials have not yet clearly stated their own position on the continuation or discontinuation of the UN envoys, he said.
“At the moment, we are not really sure how they feel. But I think that they understand the feeling of the international community, and we are hoping to continue this mandate,” Isomata said.
“We do understand that the Cambodian government is also making efforts to improve the situation and we’d like to encourage that,” he said.
After today’s discussions among Council members, a resolution is to be submitted by Japan before Sept 17, he said.
According to Juliette de Rivero, director of Human Rights Watch’s Geneva office, the resolution will be adopted “by consensus” unless it faces opposition from a member, in which case it will come up for a vote before the end of the current session.
The envoy mandate also may be changed from a Special Representative appointed by the UN Secretary General, to a Special Rapporteur to be chosen by the Council.
De Rivero said differences would be largely technical but a rapporteur would not have the explicit confidence of the UN chief.
The Council views the Cambodia UN envoy as providing assistance to the government, she said, adding that the Council is averse to imposing such assistance on countries that do not want it.
“I think this means that politically you really have to have the country on board,” she said. “A lot depends on the goodwill of the Cambodian government.”