>UN rights envoy quits in anger

>Yash Ghai (L) and Hun Sen (R)

Written by Georgia Wilkins and Cheang Sokha
Thursday, 18 September 2008
Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post

Departure puts into question future of UN rights office in Cambodia

IN a bitterly critical speech UN envoy Yash Ghai resigned as the UN secretary general’s special representative for human rights in Cambodia, calling into question the fate of human rights reforms in the Kingdom.

“The government is now considering whether to close the UN office [of human rights] or keep it operating after the formation of the new government,” Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith told the Post Wednesday.

Prime Minster Hun Sen publicly rejoiced at the departure of his arch-foe of the last three years, telling students at a graduation ceremony that he was “prepared to work with any person assigned by the UN but not Yash Ghai,” for whom he had a personal dislike.

“Reviewing the impact of my reports… it is hard to see any change for the better,” Ghai said of his tenure, during which the Kenyan legal scholar endured multiple personal attacks from Hun Sen over his unusually blunt critiques of the government’s human rights record.

He added he had received little support from the international community or the UN.

UN ‘more incapable’
The statement, made at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, also raises questions about the UN post’s mandate, which is currently under review by the council.

“The UN is proving more and more incapable of dealing with countries like Cambodia, where the rule of law has collapsed,” said Basil Fernando of the Asian Human Rights Commission by phone from Hong Kong.

“The UN needs to back representatives like Yash Ghai who are struggling for change,” he added.

“The UN does not understand human rights in countries where there is no rule of law,” Fernando said.

“Most diplomats come from developed countries and don’t know what it is like to not have a working judiciary or constitutional law. Yash Ghai tried to bridge this gap between local and international understandings of human rights.”

Naly Pilorge of the Cambodian rights group Licadho said that while it was disappointing that Ghai had not received more support, this was due to the fact that “the international community here and elsewhere have political and economic interests [to protect]”.

According to Ou Virak of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), it is likely Ghai bowed to pressure in resigning, saying many diplomats stationed in the Kingdom had not approved of the lawyer’s confrontational style.
“They wanted him to be more diplomatic and play politics,” he said.

He added he was concerned at the growing complacency of the international community.
“Diplomats and experts in Cambodia have a comfortable salary and a comfortable lifestyle. They undermine how Cambodian people live and what they want.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia declined to comment Wednesday.

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