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After the Visit of the UN Secretary General

By: Norbert Klein Posted: November-02-2010 in
Norbert Klein

The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 688

Though the Cambodia visit of the UN Secretary General was short and The Mirror had carried already two reflections and reports – Reflections on Cambodia in the United Nations, Returning to Cambodia after Six Weeks – Sunday, 24.10.2010 and The UN Secretary-General in Cambodia – Wednesday, 27.10.2010 there was also information which had later been clarified – implying also some change in content – and it is obvious that the festive banner decorations, put up in Phnom Penh to welcome the UN Secretary General, did, at the end, not easily correspond to the course of events.

But this is no reason for The Mirror not to repeat a picture from such an official banner: “Long Live the United Nations” – as this is the future of the community of nations, however bumpy the road may be towards this goal.

As it is the commitment of The Mirror to reflect what is happening – as far as a small mirror can reflect a wide reality – here follow some of the reported events. Events seen differently from different angles – while cameras provide a reflection more objective than words.

The UN Human Rights Office in Cambodia had been frequently under discussion. On 27 October 2010, the Phnom Pen Post had reported:

“Regarding the issue of the UN human rights office in Phnom Penh, Samdech [Hun Sen] proposed the removal of Mr Christophe Peschoux, because Mr Peschoux is not a UN official working on human rights issues with the government, but is a spokesman for the opposition party,” he said after the meeting.

“If Mr Peschoux is not removed, then the UN human rights office in Phnom Penh will be closed.”

But this conditionality was obviously a – friendly? – misinterpretation. Later, the Minister of Information clarified the position of the Cambodian government, saying that the office would be closed anyway, regardless of whether the present director, Christophe Peschoux, would be removed or would resign.

The UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kang Kyung-Wha, who is traveling with the UN Secretary General, had earlier on expressed some hopes, saying: “The prime minister made his reply, which was a little bit of a surprise, I should say the tone, but it opens up the door for further discussions, and again on the issue of a person, we do not wish to go into the details. And yet obviously the government has a different view to the UN High Commissioner on her Representative here, but I am sure we will find a way to discuss this issue of the representative and also the issue of the office here on more constructive terms.”

The clarification by the Minister of Information put also discussions in the Cambodian interested public to rest, whether English language translations had erroneously rendered the position of the Cambodian government in a harsh way, which was not justified, by stating that the Prime Minister had “ordered” the closure of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia, or just “recommended” to close it. According to the Minister of Information, only the time of the closure is still open, to be negotiated.

While in this case had been a certain margin of possible error needing clarification, different statements relating to the future of the different statements are clear:

“Hun Sen has said clearly that there will be no case 003 allowed” in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters after the meeting between the UN Secretary General and the Cambodian Prime Minister.

On the other hand, it was reported from a meeting with members of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia: “The UN Secretary General reiterated that the independence of the court was very important, and that the official position of the UN was that there should be no interference,” as, according to a UN briefing on the meetings, the UN Secretary General underlined that the Khmer Rouge Tribunal “was established to be fully independent, and that no one should seek to influence its decisions in any way.”

That seems to be following also the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia, which says, among others, On Policy, in its Article 51:

The Kingdom of Cambodia adopts a policy of Liberal democracy and Pluralism.
The Cambodian people are the masters of their country.
All powers belong to the people. The people exercise these powers through the National Assembly, the Royal Government and the Judiciary.

The Legislative, Executive, and the Judicial powers shall be separated.

There was also a confrontation between members of the about 4,000 people who are to be removed, some of them forcefully evicted, from their traditional residences since many years, in the area of the Boeung Kak Lake – which is to be almost completely filled in for commercial purposes – who wanted to bring their plight to the attention of the UN Secretary General. There are, again, conflicting reports.

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A statement by the Human Rights Organization LICADHO says:

“The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights condemns the authorities’ brutal response to peaceful protesters who demonstrated during the visit of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

The incident took place during a protest in front of the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital this morning, October 28, 2010, where a group of fifty protesters gathered to seek intervention by the UN Secretary-General into the ongoing Boeung Kak land grab in Phnom Penh by Shukaku Company, owned by a ruling party senator.
Around 10:15 a.m., as the UN Secretary-General was visiting the Hospital with government officials, a mixed group of armed anti-riot police and administrative police officers launched a violent assault on standing protesters, pushing people to the ground, beating some with walkie-talkies and shocking others with electric batons.

During the incident, Suong Sophorn, a land activist who lives in the Boeung Kak Lake area, was arrested and viciously beaten, resulting in a severe wound to the head. The police dragged him away as he fell unconscious and was further beaten by officers. Sophorn is one among the many Cambodians who were protesting the forced eviction of the Boeung Kak Lake community, and was appealing for a meeting with the Secretary-General. “They hit me in the head with a walkie-talkie, punched me in the face several times, hit me with an electric baton and then pulled me into the car by the throat,” Suong Sophorn said.

The UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kang Kyung-Wha, at present also in Cambodia, is reported to have condemned the ‘excessive force’ she said was used by police against several dozen peaceful protestors who were trying to meet with visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. “I have expressed concern in person to the Ministry of Interior about this incident and the excessive use of force used against the petitioners and Mr. Suong Sophorn specifically,” she said.

On the other hand, the Daun Penh Deputy Governor Sok Penhvuth denied that the police had used force against the protesters. “Suong Sophorn pushed the authorities and then hit his head against the police car door,” he is quoted to have said. “Don’t believe them. No one hit or arrested him – the police just helped him get treatment.”

The high visit is over – there will be a lot of follow-up necessary to clarify the next steps to take.

This article was first published by The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 688 - Friday, 29.10.2010
Have a look at the last editorial - you can access it directly from the main page of The Mirror.

Norbert Klein is the Editor of The Mirror – The Mirror is a daily comprehensive summary and translation of the major Khmer language press - More about The Mirror

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