Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Foreign minister's ‘bullying’ of UN office decried



Foreign minister's ‘bullying’ of UN office decried

Wan-Hea Lee, country representative of the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaks during a press conference in Phnom Penh last month.
Wan-Hea Lee, country representative of the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaks during a press conference in Phnom Penh last month. Hong Menea

Foreign minister's ‘bullying’ of UN office decried

Observers yesterday characterised a threat by Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon to close the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) field office in Cambodia as a dangerous act of brinkmanship, with many calling for donors to take a stand.

OHCHR’s memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the government expired last December. Since then, the government has been demanding a controversial rewording of the memorandum placing an emphasis on what it views as an established diplomatic doctrine of non-interference.

Earlier this month, in response to remarks by OHCHR country representative Wan-Hea Lee reported in the media, Sokhon issued a letter saying the human rights office’s activities were “not legitimate” while the MoU was expired.

Lee later said she shared the government’s disappointment with the way her comments were reported.

Then, on Friday, Sokhon issued a fresh salvo, writing an open letter to UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein threatening to shutter OHCHR’s Cambodia office if it did not sign the MoU by December 30.

Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson yesterday described Sokhon’s letter as presenting “a challenge to the entire UN mandate on human rights”.

“The UN and government donors need to fight tenaciously to defend this office because Cambodia’s rights record has taken a huge dive for the worse,” Robertson said via email. “The loss of the office would be a disaster for Cambodian civil society, tearing down the last international barrier to Hun Sen’s predatory attacks on anyone who dares raise their voice against his schemes.

“[The government is] playing both a short and a long game, aiming to either get the office out now or setting it up so it is easier to get the office out later.”

Andrea Giorgetta, director of the Southeast Asia desk for the International Federation for Human Rights, echoed Robertson’s call for the international community to speak out, and said that the loss of the OHCHR country office “would have disastrous consequences for the Cambodian people”.

Sam Zarifi, regional director for the International Commission of Jurists, said in an email that Sokhon’s letter was “a pretty blatant attempt at bullying the international community” into muting its criticism of the government.

“It’s crucial for the entire UN mechanism and its Member States . . . [to] stand up to the Cambodian government’s bullying,” Zarifi said, while noting that closing the OHCHR field office would do little to hamper the UN’s ability to monitor the human rights situation in Cambodia.

Meanwhile, OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said discussions with the government were ongoing: “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.”

MOST VIEWED

  • ‘Kingdom one of safest to visit in Covid-19 era’

    The Ministry of Tourism on January 12 proclaimed Cambodia as one of the safest countries to visit in light of the Kingdom having been ranked number one in the world by the Senegalese Economic Prospective Bureau for its success in handling the Covid-19 pandemic. In rankings

  • Ministry mulls ASEAN+3 travel bubble

    The Ministry of Tourism plans to launch a travel bubble allowing transit between Cambodia and 12 other regional countries in a bid to resuscitate the tourism sector amid crushing impact of the ongoing spread of Covid-19, Ministry of Tourism spokesman Top Sopheak told The Post on

  • Reeling in Cambodia’s real estate sector

    A new norm sets the scene but risks continue to play out in the background A cold wind sweeps through the streets of Boeung Trabek on an early January morning as buyers and traders engage in commerce under bright blue skies. From a distance, the

  • Quarantine site in north Phnom Penh inaugurated

    A four-building quarantine centre in Phnom Penh’s Prek Pnov district was formally inaugurated on January 6. The centre can house up to 500 people, according to Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng. At the inauguration ceremony, Sreng said the municipal hall had cooperated with the Ministry

  • More than 5K workers rush from Thailand amid outbreak

    Following the recent outbreak of Covid-19 in Thailand’s Samut Sakhon province, Cambodian migrants working in Thailand were gripped by worry over the situation and many rushed to return to their homeland. Over the past 10 days, more than 5,000 migrant workers have returned from Thailand through

  • ‘Beware of WhatsApp fraudsters’

    The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications warned members of the public who use WhatsApp to vigilantly guard against a new trick employed by hackers that involves the use of six-digit codes sent to potential victims via the popular messaging app. The ministry said hackers could