UN human rights envoy Peter Leuprecht arrived in Cambodia Friday pessimistic that he would be able to secure the Cambodian government’s agreement on the UN’s rights office here.
The office’s memorandum of understanding with the government expired in February 2000. The UNCHR has been negotiating a new agreement since late last year and Prime Minister Hun Sen has several times lashed out at the UN’s presence in Cambodia.
“In light of my past experiences I wouldn’t be [confident] we’d be able to sign before the end of next week…I wouldn’t count on it,” Leuprecht said, adding that the lack of an agreement on the UNCHR’s mandate has been raised by several foreign governments and was discussed at the recent donor meeting in Tokyo.
During Leuprecht’s week-long visit, his third since assuming the role as the UN Secretary-General for Human rights’ special representative for Cambodia, he is also expected to address a number of other topics, including the pending trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders, with the country’s leaders, including Hun Sen.
Despite the Council of Minister’s move Friday to amend the draft trial law and revive the process of putting together a Khmer Rouge tribunal, Leuprecht said, “This is still no end of the story.”
He said the UN has yet to receive an official translation of the draft law and isn’t likely to act until doing so.
Responding to a government spokesman’s remark Friday that Hun Sen said the entire cost of the trial would have to be picked up by the international community, Leuprecht said this issue would be discussed later.
“I don’t think it would not go forward because of financial reasons.”
Leuprecht said he hoped there would be no political interference and called former Khmer Rouge leader Ieng Sary’s amnesty from King Norodom Sihanouk “one of the big questions.”
Leuprecht said he plans to focus on demobilization and land reform—two of Cambodia’s most pressing issues in the eyes of the international community.
Though a land law is pending debate by parliament, land grabbing remains one of the country’s major causes of dissent among the poor population—often the poor from the provinces who are pushed off their land by powerful officials.
“If [the government] can’t solve this problem, it will create a lot of unrest. It will be very explosive because these people have nothing to lose,” Leuprecht said.