UN Envoy Says Shunned But Ready To Work

UN human rights envoy Yash Ghai said Monday he remained ready to meet with government officials, whom he called on to address rights violations suffered by the Cambodian public.

During Ghai’s fourth official visit to Cambodia, which concluded last week, leading government figures ignored or declined his requests to meet. In a statement issued Mon­day, Ghai said he had sought meetings with ministers “well in ad­vance” of his visit.

“In the absence of such meetings, [the representative] has described publicly his main concerns as he is duty-bound to do,” Ghai said in the statement. “These are serious concerns for the lives of many Cam­bodians. These issues will not go away. They deserve attention. As a Cambodian proverb goes, one cannot hide a dead elephant with a basket,” Ghai added.

Following Ghai’s visit, during which he traveled to villages in­volv­ed in land disputes in both Rata­nakkiri province and Phnom Penh, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Cam­bodia would cease to cooperate with Ghai.

In the statement Monday, Ghai also sought to correct misinformation about his mandate, saying that he received no UN salary, did not represent his birth nation of Kenya and had not called for donor countries to cut aid to Cambodia. Ghai said he also remained ready to discuss his work on Cambodia.

CPP National Assembly First Vice President Nguon Nhel said Ghai had alienated the government.

“If he hadn’t attacked the government first, the government would not have responded. There must be two sides,” Nguon Nhel said. “Khmers know the real situation…. There is no dead elephant.”

Christophe Peschoux, country representative for the UN human rights office in Phnom Penh, said the newly-created UN Human Rights Council is due to consider in March whether to continue the presence of UN rights envoys in Cambodia.

Many members of the council dislike seeing individual countries singled out for criticism by such envoys, Peschoux said.

“There’s a broad majority of member states that want to abolish these mandates,” he said.

(Ad­ditional re­porting by Yun Samean)

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