UN envoy Yash Ghai announced his resignation to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, ending a turbulent three-year term as the special representative of the UN Secretary-General for human rights in Cambodia.
Despite speculation that the government could seek to end the 15-year UN mechanism of special envoys for human rights here, a process which has consistently upset government leaders, participants said during discussions at the Council on Monday that Cambodia has accepted its renewal, though in a modified form.
The 47-member Council is in the process of reviewing and modifying the roughly three dozen mandates for special human rights experts, which were created by the former UN Human Rights Commission, a body abolished in 2006 as a forum manipulated by human rights violators.
Some member states have opposed appointing special envoys to individual countries. Mandates for Cuba, Belarus and the Democratic Republic of Congo have been ended, drawing criticism that the Council is little better than the Commission.
In a statement delivered on his behalf to the Council on Monday, Ghai urged the UN body to renew the Cambodia mandate despite saying that the government has resisted the work of all four special representatives.
Ghai replaced former rights envoy Peter Leuprecht, who stepped down in 2005 after arriving at loggerheads with the government over his own criticism of its human rights practices. Ghai’s statement said he was not present for the discussions, as frequent changes to Cambodia’s place on the Council’s agenda had created a conflict with his schedule, according to video of the proceedings.
“Reviewing the impact of my reports, advice and recommendations over the past three years, and that of my predecessors, it is hard to see any change for the better,” said Sima Samar, special rapporteur on the Sudan, reading from Ghai’s statement.
“I have had to repeat many of the recommendations that the first special representative made in his first report as the government showed little disposition to take any positive action. This state of affairs might raise a question as to whether there is any point in the extension of the mandate.”
The few improvements seen in Cambodia are “not irreversible due to deep-seated systemic deficiencies in the judiciary and other key institutions tasked with upholding the rule of law and protecting the rights of individuals,” Ghai said.
Ghai also said the international community had left him alone to face a war of words with the Cambodian government.
“It will be very important that my successor should have the full support of this Council, the UN family and the international community. I cannot say that I had a great deal of such support and this merely encouraged Cambodia’s Prime Minister, Mr Hun Sen, constantly to insult me,” Ghai said.
“He called me ‘deranged,’ ‘short-term tourist,’ ‘lazy,’ while the government spokesperson, Khieu Kanharith, called me uncivilized and lacking Aryan culture. Mr Hun Sen also accused me of telling lies and of accepting my appointment mainly to earn a salary. He described international human rights organizations and myself as acting like animals. He denigrated my country, Kenya, saying it was becoming a killing field and Mr Khieu Kanharith said that Kenyans are rude and savage,” Ghai said.
“The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Geneva did not come to my defense and also declined to issue a statement explaining that I received no salary, so I was forced do so in my own name,” Ghai added.
Cambodian Ambassador to Geneva Sun Suon said Cambodia hoped future envoys would be more cooperative.
“Human rights is not a tool just for shaming. The experience in Cambodia indicates that over the years where the government has been working cooperatively with the development partners, it did well in the performance,” he said.
Sun Suon said the past four human rights envoys had often exceeded the terms of their mandate and that Cambodia hoped future envoys will adhere to a code of conduct discussed in recent Council resolutions.
“Their work should be guided by those principles to ensure universality, objectivity and non-selectivity and a good partnership in consideration of human rights issues and the elimination of double standards and politicization,” he said.
“Cambodia has already begun to transform itself into a new political, economic and social landscape from a post-conflict country. This development should be taken into account and therefore should have been reflected in the situation of human rights in Cambodia. This new development should therefore be a reflection for the Council here to reexamine and reconsider what Cambodia has achieved,” he said.
Speaking for the European Union, French Ambassador Jean-Baptiste Mattei said Europe hailed Cambodia’s decision to accept the renewal of the mandate.
Human Rights Watch Geneva Director Juilette de Rivero, who addressed the Council on Monday in support of renewal, said Tuesday that the Council would continue hammering out a resolution on the renewal until the end of the week.
However, in its current form, the resolution will change the position from a special representative to Cambodia appointed by the UN Secretary-General to a special rapporteur appointed by the Council, a change in line with modifications made to most country mandates, she said.
“I think Cambodia had an issue with the mandate holder but they were willing to continue with the mandate,” she said.
“I think they want to show that they still want to cooperate with the international community.”