UN Human Rights Mandate to be Extended

The government will extend its mandate for the Cambodia office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, but the term length has yet to be worked out, officials said Monday.

“There was agreement that this office did valuable work and it should continue,” said UN human rights envoy Thomas Hammarberg, who arrived in Phnom Penh on Saturday.

After what he deemed a “positive” meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Nam Hong, Hammarberg said the two will meet again to determine how long the mandate will last.

While Hammarberg requested the term be reconsidered every two years, Foreign Affairs Min­­istry spokesman Chum Sounry said the government prefers it once a year.

The government is “pleased to have the office continue in Cam­bo­dia,” said Chum Sounry. But they hope the two bodies will communicate more frequently in the future. Government leaders were miffed before the 1998 elections when the UN office publicly released reports before running them by the government.

The office has been critical of the government, especially of immunity for state employees and the delay in trying former Khmer Rouge leaders.

But Hammarberg said the government did not try to enforce any “conditions” on how the office conducts its work Monday.

Hammarberg, who in the past negotiated between the UN and the government on establishing a mixed Khmer Rouge tribunal, said he will not be involved in talks set to begin when a five-member team of UN legal experts arrives this week.

In 1995, then co-premiers Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Rana­riddh requested to close the office, then called the UN Center for Human Rights. They argued that its continued presence only fostered a “crisis” mentality. But it remained open.

Its current mandate was scheduled to expire in March.

Relatedly, a top UN delegation slated to arrive in Phnom Penh on Wednesday will meet with Hun Sen, a UN human rights envoy confirmed Monday. Thomas Hammarberg, a human rights representative of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, said Hun Sen will “take time” to meet with the five-member team sometime late in the week.

The team will meet with multiple Cambodian government officials, as well.

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