Phnom Penh Post
Rights workers said yesterday they were concerned over the refusal of government officials to meet with UN special envoy Surya Subedi, who on Friday wrapped up a week-long mission with an admission that no senior members of the government had met with him.
During a press conference held at the conclusion of his eighth mission to Cambodia, Subedi said he remained “deeply concerned” about the culture of impunity and the situation of freedom of expression in Cambodia.
Subedi also expressed reg-ret and surprise that he was unable to meet with any sen-ior government representat-ives during his visit to chart how well the government had heeded his recommendations on a slew of rights issues.
“It is not clear to me why and how this situation came about,” Subedi said.
The Leeds University professor said he suspected there had been a communication gap, agitated by inaccurate media reporting during his week-long mission.
“I don’t know why it has come to this stage,” he said, “but I am not discouraged.”
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen used a public address to strongly assert Cambodia’s sovereignty over instructions from “foreigners” and take issue with what he believed were presumptuous statements about Subedi’s itinerary, which was reported in local media as including a visit to the King and the premier himself.
Subedi said yesterday he would be “looking to hear from the government through the appropriate channels” as to why it had not met with him. “I hope we can return to [a good] mode of operation in the future,” he said.
But while Subedi said he remained hopeful, rights monitors lamented the government’s apparent unwillingness to listen to critical opinion.
“They need to have this kind of collaboration, to discuss how to improve the human-rights situation, how to improve the rule of law,” Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc, said.
“I hope in the future they will meet again and discuss how to improve Cambodia.”
The government voluntar-ily acceded to the special rapporteur process, Saray pointed out, and was under no obligation to invite the envoy back year after year.
But to do so, then devalue the reports or block discuss-ion of the recommendations, made no sense, he said.
“If not [to meet], why have this procedure?”
Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said the breakdown in communication was likely indicative of a lack of viable defence.
“I think the problem is they wouldn’t have a good answer on why they had not implem-ented the recommendations.
“They may not have the capacity to have a dialogue with those with a different opinion.
“I think they maybe don’t know how to give a technical explanation to the special rapporteur; that’s why they react by ignoring the dialogue.”
Ek Tha, spokesman for the Press and Quick Reaction Unit, which has published several scathing opinion pieces about Subedi, said on Friday the likely reason government officials did not meet with the rapporteur was because they were too busy with high-priority tasks.
“There are many priorities of work that the government has been dealing with: poverty reduction, rebuilding the land with sustainable development, the land-titling project, fighting corruption,” Tha said.
“Right now, there are plenty of human rights: radio, newspapers, an opposition party and radio and newspapers for the opposition. People hold protests, and there is freedom of expression.”
Subedi said he would soon begin writing a report about his mission to Cambodia, his fifth such report on the Kingdom.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ABBY SEIFF