Outspoken UN human rights representative Yash Ghai is due to begin his third official visit to Cambodia today, the Phnom Penh office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights announced Monday.
Members of the ruling CPP said they were divided as to whether government officials should agree to meet with Ghai, and reiterated their opposition to his previous unvarnished criticism of the government’s human rights record.
The purpose of this week’s three-day visit is to solicit comments from government and UN officials as well as rights workers on Ghai’s most recent report, which was released in March and contained a bleak assessment of Cambodia’s legal system, said Henrik Stenman, the UN human rights center’s acting representative in Cambodia.
Ghai is planning to present the report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 12, Stenman said.
Stenman also said that while preparations for Ghai’s visit had been received with some openness, his office had not yet received a response to a request for a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen. The schedule for Ghai’s visit had not been finalized, Stenman added, and he therefore declined to specify whom Ghai would meet.
Eang Sophalleth, an assistant to Hun Sen, said he was unaware of any request for a meeting with Ghai. In March 2006, Hun Sen called for Ghai’s removal and said he would never meet the envoy, after he said there was too much power concentrated in the hands of one individual for human rights to flourish in Cambodia. “I am leaving him a message,” Hun Sen said at the time. “I refuse to meet you forever.”
In his report released in March this year, Ghai described Cambodia’s judicial system as “a principal agency of oppression” in which “innocent people become, at the instigation of the government, the victims.”
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith on Monday referred questions to Hun Sen’s human rights adviser Om Yentieng, who could not be reached.
National Assembly and CPP Honorary President Heng Samrin said there was no use in officials meeting Ghai as he had already demonstrated his unreliability.
“I think it is pointless for government officials to meet him because he has already produced twisted information,” Heng Samrin said.
By selectively addressing only the rare instances of rights abuses in Cambodia, Ghai has missed the bigger picture, Heng Samrin said.
“He thinks only of one tree while we have millions of trees,” he said, calling Ghai’s report “exaggerated.”
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said he wanted to meet with Ghai to correct the envoy’s mistaken view of Cambodia.
“I want to meet him to explain the real situation in Cambodia so that he does not produce a false report,” Cheam Yeap said.
SRP Secretary-General Mu Sochua said government officials would be wrong to turn Yash Ghai away.
“To avoid meeting a representative of the United Nations is not a good image for the country, and I’m sure Mr Ghai will report accordingly the results of his visit,” she said. “There’s nothing to hide because abuses of human rights are so widespread.”
Stenman said that meetings with officials from the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia had been under consideration, but tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said the court had received no proposal for a meeting with Ghai.
Son Soubert, a non-partisan member of the Constitutional Council, which Ghai has described as ineffective and unwilling to challenge government policy, said Monday that he broadly supported Ghai’s views.
Son Soubert said he was unfamiliar with the details of Ghai’s most recent report, but added that the council does suffer from political influence.
“People in power don’t like to be criticized,” he said.
“Here, it’s not the people who are sovereign but those with arms who are sovereign.”
Constitutional Council member Prak Sok defended the body.
“We have worked according to the law,” he said, adding that council President Bin Chhin had once already met with Ghai to explain the council’s functions.