Ultimatum Given to UN

Source: Khmer Times

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United Nations Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith (left) and Wan-Hea Lee, the Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. KT/Mai Vireak

The United Nations human rights body says talks on a new agreement to let it stay in Cambodia are continuing as the government warned that the organization would be shut down if negotiations were not speeded up.

Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn wrote last week to Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, saying that his organization in Cambodia consistently went beyond its role as set out in an earlier agreement.

Mr. Sokhonn said that despite government efforts to enhance smooth, constructive and effective cooperation based on mutual respect, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been stepping up its interference in Cambodia’s internal affairs.

“More than ever, its representatives and spokesperson have been behaving arrogantly and disrespectfully towards the sovereignty of Cambodia, which is unacceptable and contravenes diplomatic decorum,” he said in a letter on Tuesday.

In September, Rhona Smith, the special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, noted the progress made by the Cambodian government in women’s rights, strengthening the organization of the courts and on voter registration.

But she said areas requiring improvement included the independence of the judiciary, freedom of expression and rule of law.

Earlier this month, Mr. Sokhonn wrote and chided the UN human rights office for demanding an explanation of last month’s decision to ban opposition leader Sam Rainsy from returning to Cambodia.

Mr. Sokhonn said the call “crossed the red line of the UN Charter.” He said UN rights representative Wan-Hea Lee “has continued interfering into the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Cambodia.”

The letter added that, given the circumstances and the expired agreement, the activities of the human right office are not legitimate.

Article 41 of the Vienna Convention states that ‘Without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities and regulations of the receiving State. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State,” a direct reference to the continued lop sided comments by the UN rights office.

Mr. Sokhonn told UN Resident Coordinator Claire Van der Vaeren in the letter that all official business with the government should be conducted with or through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or another ministry, not through the media, he said.

Raivna Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said yesterday that discussions with the government on the new agreement were continuing.

“The presence of OHCHR in any country depends on the agreement of the host country and we are looking forward to continuing to discuss with the government the continuing presence of OHCHR in the country,” she said.

The old agreement ran out at the end of last year. Mr. Sokhonn told the UN body the government has decided to wait until December 30 for the UN body to conclude a new agreement on the basis of respect for sovereignty and non-interference in Cambodia’s internal affairs in line with the UN Charter.

“Otherwise, the government has no choice but to execute its sovereign rights on the future of the field presence of the OHCHR in Cambodia,” Mr. Sokhonn said.

Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator for human rights group Licadho, said the government should meet UN officials to resolve human rights issues rather than keeping misunderstandings going and forcing the office to shut down.

“Cambodia would lose assistance for development cooperation and investment from the international community if the human rights issues were not resolved and were ignored,” Mr. Sam Ath said.

Ms. Wan-Hea Lee said earlier that she understood that the government was unhappy with her requests and her comments in the media, but the UN Human Rights Committee and the Cambodian public would expect an explanation, which Cambodia was obliged to provide through established channels.

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