The UN’s top human rights monitor in Cambodia left the country Friday, saying that if no agreement is reached by April allowing his agency to stay, it would “reflect badly” on Cambodia.
The “one reason for regret” at the end of his week-long visit, Peter Leuprecht, special representative of the Secretary General for Human Rights in Cambodia said at a news conference Friday, was that the government had yet to sign a memorandum of understanding that would let UN human rights monitors remain in Cambodia.
The government should sign the memorandum before he presents his report on human rights in Cambodia to the world body, he added.
“I believe it would be in the interests of Cambodia to reach an agreement before discussions of my report in April. It will reflect badly on Cambodia, and it would, I believe, be taken up by the UN Council on Human Rights in its resolution on Cambodia,” Leuprecht said.
Concluding his second visit to the country since December, Leuprecht said his report, which is due out within the month and will be discussed by the UN in April, will raise several issues and suggestions for improving the human rights situation in Cambodia.
The report will focus on increasing international aid, land reforms, the commune elections and preventing political violence. Reforming the judiciary, and improving conditions in prisons, which, “I think, everyone in the country agrees, are in bad shape,” will also be included, Leuprecht said.
The human rights chief said he had interviewed the four alleged leaders of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters at Prey Sar prison. Although the prisoners did not say they were mistreated, Leuprecht, a law professor based in Montreal, said that they had not been allowed to visit with their attorneys or families.
Leuprecht refused to say whether he considered members of the CFF political prisoners.
“This question has been put to me when I first arrived. The concept of political prisoners is not precise at all from the point of view of international law. One thing is clear, though: People guilty of terrorism are not political prisoners. [The CFF leaders] admit they were trying to overthrow the government by violent means,” Leuprecht said.
Nonetheless, the CFF violence should not give the government an excuse to crack down on their critics, Leuprecht added.
“I do say, and I did say, that I very much hope that the incident of the CFF [uprising] is not used as a cover to arrest political opponents,” Leuprecht said.
The human rights monitor also addressed criticism by Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this week that his agency was coddling terrorists.
“If I see Ta Mok and Duch and the CFF people, it’s not because they are my friends. There can be no question of the UN protecting terrorists. The UN is not here to embarrass the country, but on the contrary, to help the country,” Leuprecht said.
While Leuprecht thanked the government for its “openness and spirit of cooperation,” he refused to answer directly questions regarding his relationship with Hun Sen and the government. Hun Sen refused to meet with Leuprecht this week, saying that he was too busy.
“The task of the UN special delegate is not an easy one,” he said. I can’t guess the intentions of the prime minister, but I can tell you, as I note in my report, that the prime minister has a strong will to reform human rights. We’ll have to take him and the government at their word. And we’ll have to wait and see.”
(Additional reporting by Kevin Doyle.)