UN Rights Center Urged to be More Active

Cambodia government officials said Monday they want the UN’s Center for Human Rights to take a more active role in the country’s hu­man rights efforts.

“Instead of just being a watchdog we wish this center to be­come involved in the restoration of law and order in Cam­bodia,” government spokes­man Khieu Kanha­rith said. “We’re asking for cooperation because right now we don’t have that at all. [The rights center and government] mostly work separately right now.”

While center officials describe the relationship as “frank,” it also has been strained at times.

The rights center was accused of siding with opposition party protesters during demonstrations in 1998 and has been criticized by government officials for taking an anti-government stance. The center, though, has conducted hu­man rights training for Cambo­dian police and soldiers.

The government’s wish to change the center’s role in Cam­bodia comes at the same time it is asking that the office of the UN Secretary General’s special representative be closed. The office, according to a memo written last week by Prime Minister Hun Sen, has run its course and is no longer needed.

Office head Lakhan Mehrotra said Sunday he was unaware of Hun Sen’s recommendation but said he would accept any decision made by the UN and the gov­ernment.

Hun Sen’s memo also recommended the center for human rights’ mandate, which expires in March 2000, be extended until March 2002.

Surya Dhungel, a senior official at the UN rights center in Phnom Penh, said a memo outlining the center’s proposed relationship with the government has been sent to government officials.

Though he said some minor changes to the center’s role have been recommended by center officials, its mission will basically remain intact.

The center is seeking a more active role in the areas of policy and law-making. “We want to en­hance and promote our role,” Surya Dhungel said.

The government has not yet discussed the center’s memo, though it has been received, Khieu Kanharith said.

A local human rights official said it is too soon to tell what impact Hun Sen’s recommendations will have on the center. It’s unclear whether the push for more involvement with the government is Hun Sen’s attempt to bring the center more under his control or a true attempt at progress, said Thun Saray, director of Adhoc.

“If the government wants to improve human rights, it is good. But if this is just a show, it is not good,” Thun Saray said. “It’s just too soon to know.”

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