Reaction to a scathing UN envoy’s assessment of the human rights situation in Cambodia drew mixed reviews from foreign diplomats Thursday, while CPP lawmakers continued to attack its validity.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap accused Yash Ghai, the UN special representative for human rights in Cambodia, of conducting flawed research and claimed that Ghai based his withering findings on the accounts of government critics.
But Canadian Ambassador Donica Pottie said Ghai’s speech on Tuesday in Geneva was a reminder that the international community needs to do more to advocate for rights in Cambodia.
Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council, Ghai said rights violations in Cambodia continue on a “systematic scale,” and accused Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP of subverting the democratic process to retain its hold on power. He also accused the government of undermining legitimate political opposition and using the state “for the accumulation of private wealth.”
“If the report was true it’s not a problem, but the report is just based on the fact that Yash Ghai only walked four or five steps in Cambodia,” Cheam Yeap said.
He also denied that the CPP has consolidated power by undermining its opposition.
“The government has given many positions within the National Assembly to the opposition party,” he said.
Cheam Yeap said human rights in Cambodia are improving, and that despite Ghai’s report, the UN served a purpose in Cambodia.
“The government should not abandon the UN and the UN human rights office in Cambodia,” he said, though he added that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan should pressure Ghai to “speak the truth.”
Pottie said she agreed with Ghai’s appeal to the international community to apply pressure to Cambodia to give higher priority to rights.
“It was clear that Yash Ghai’s address did reflect his honest and genuine assessment of [Cambodia],” she said. “He made a reasoned appeal to the international community.”
“We’ve tried to be an effective advocate of human rights. Mr Yash Ghai’s speech is a reminder that we need to do more and it’s a reminder I take very much to heart,” she added.
Officials in Geneva discussed Ghai’s report Tuesday.
Kirsti Pohjankukka, speaking on behalf of the European Union, commended Ghai’s report on Cambodia.
“The issue of impunity was of particular concern for the European Union, in particular for persons who were politically and economically well placed,” she said, according to a statement issued by the UN Center for Human Rights.
Warren Tichenor, permanent representative of the US to the UN and other international organizations in Geneva, said his country was encouraged by the improvements made in Cambodia, according to the statement.
However, Tichenor expressed concern that Cambodia’s ethnic minorities had difficulties in accessing water and land.
In Phnom Penh, Hun Sen’s human rights adviser Om Yentieng, said simply: “We do not bother with [Ghai’s] statement.”
“His curse will not be victorious over the government,” Om Yentieng added. “Many millions of people know the truth.”
The Cambodian Center for Human Rights issued a statement supporting Ghai.
“CCHR appreciates Yash Ghai’s report and supports his evaluation of the human rights situation in Cambodia, particularly what he said about the denial of fundamental freedoms to the citizens, the dependency of the courts and the corruption that is endemic in our country,” the statement said.
The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission issued a statement calling for donors and the international community to “work harder to impress upon the Cambodian government the need to ensure respect for the constitutional rights of the Cambodian people, especially the precious rights to freedom of expression and assembly.”
Australian Embassy spokesman Guy Ruediger declined comment on Ghai’s statement.
A receptionist at the British Embassy said the embassy’s press officer was too busy to speak to the media this week. An official at the French Embassy said that they had not read the report and could not comment.
Australia, France and Britain provide significant amounts of official development assistance to the Cambodian government.
Cheam Yeap said Hun Sen will be the final judge of Ghai’s report.
After Ghai stated in March that there was too much power concentrated in the hands of one person in Cambodia for freedom to flourish, Hun Sen branded him “rude,” a “long-term tourist” and demanded that the UN fire him.
“The ultimate response to Yash Ghai is up to Samdech Hun Sen,” Cheam Yeap said.
“No other prime minister is as good as Prime Minister Hun Sen because he walks in the dirty flooded water.”