Echoing his earlier comments on the direction the country was taking with regard to respect for human rights, UN rights envoy Surya Subedi said yesterday that he was “optimistic,” though when pressed admitted the government had not been receptive to all of his suggestions on improving the prevailing situation.
Throughout an hour-long news conference held yesterday as his latest monitoring mission to Cambodia comes to a close, Mr Subedi stressed the role of Cambodia’s legal channels in ensuring respect for human rights.
“My concern is that on the one hand there are these institutions in existence, on the other hand human rights violations are going on,” he said. “I would like to study in more detail the working procedures and bylaws and decrees and other legal arrangements that are in place with regard to the workings of these institutions.”
During his two-week mission, which ends Saturday, Mr Subedi said that he had been looking into the “internal working mechanisms” of the country’s judiciary, the government’s human rights committee and the National Assembly, among other institutions, to determine possible failings.
And although Mr Subedi has been the picture of diplomacy during this visit, likely eager to distance himself from his impugned predecessor Yash Ghai, he took care to separate government actions from his own recommendations.
Mr Subedi was also eager to dispel what he said were print media reports that “may not be an entirely accurate depiction of my discussions with the Prime Minister” concerning the role civil society will play in the government’s planned human rights board.
“My idea wasn’t to have one representative, but a collective body of NGO representatives,” he said, referring to the government proposal that one person from the entire human right NGO community would represent the sector’s interest to the government.
Mr Subedi said the collective body would be a more effective way of broaching dialogue with the government. For example, he said, if a formal NGO body existed, it could make it easier for the government to obtain insight on important issues, particularly the forthcoming controversial NGO law, on which Mr Subedi said the government has agreed to consult with civil society.
“I am fully aware of the risks associated with one representative. It was not my proposal,” he said.
When pressed by reporters, Mr Subedi admitted there had been recommendations of his the government found too “difficult to implement,” such as a moratorium on land evictions.
“It is difficult for the government to accept that recommendation at this time,” he said, noting that the government maintained such a move would waylay development activity.
Asked his view on the newly-passed expropriation law-which critics claim will make evictions more common, but under a legal banner-Mr Subedi said he was “of the view that having a piece of legislation is better than having no law.” He added, however, that he was concerned about how “public interest” will be defined, as well as what the compensation agreements will be for those evicted under the law.
When asked about the Uighur asylum seekers deported to China in December, Mr Subedi called attention to suggestions he made at the time- which the government ignored- but conceded that Cambodia had a right to implement the rule of law as it sees fit.
“Cambodia is entitled to have its immigration law enforced,” said Mr Subedi, who was careful to strike a positive note on his dealings with the government throughout much of yesterday’s news conference.
“The government has demonstrated its willingness to work with me,” he said at the end. “I am quite optimistic that we will be able to make a difference. Maybe a small difference, but certainly a difference for the people of Cambodia.”