CAMBODIA: Prime Minister’s attack on UN representative must be condemned

At the end of his second mission as the Special Representative of the Secretary General on human rights in Cambodia (March 19-28, 2006), Professor Yash Ghai pointed to the stark fear present throughout Cambodia due to the one-man rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen, which prevents the growth of democracy and the possibility of human rights protection in the country. The prime minister responded by telling the special representative he is no longer welcome in the country.

The AHRC’s long involvement and study of Cambodia confirms the validity of the special representative’s comments. In order to move away from the present framework of repression, it is also necessary that such comments be made strongly. Professor Ghai’s comments on the obligations of donor countries–which provide more than half of Cambodia’s total budget–to effectively engage with the Cambodian government to bring an end to the absolute control and repression by one individual, are particularly significant. Had such a position been taken earlier, the situation in Cambodia today may have been different. In its previous statements on Cambodia, the AHRC has referred to the connivance of the donor community in preventing genuine democracy and human rights from taking root in Cambodia through its unwillingness to impose aid conditionality.  

The AHRC strongly condemns Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen for attacking the special representative for comments he made in the course of duty. The prime minister threatened to no longer cooperate with the special representative and said that UN human rights monitors are merely ‘long-term tourists’. Furthermore, he recommended UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to sack the special representative. This attack calls for international condemnation, as well as a response from the United Nations itself. The AHRC urges Secretary-General Kofi Annan to unequivocally condemn Prime Minister Hun Sen’s comments, and show his support to Professor Ghai and the work of UN agencies in Cambodia. In the past, such attacks by the prime minister on individuals have been followed by threats and intimidation. The Secretary-General should therefore act promptly in letting the Cambodian government know of his support for the special representative and others working for human rights in Cambodia. 

Professor Yash Ghai is the fourth Special Representative of the Secretary General for human rights in Cambodia, appointed in November 2005. His predecessors were Peter Leuprecht (2001-2005), Thomas Hammarberg (1996-1999) and Michael Kirby (1993-1996). This post of the special representative was created at the end of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) mission, which intervened to end many years of civil strife in Cambodia and to create a liberal form of government. Though the 1993 constitution states that Cambodia is a liberal democracy, there has been no actual realisation of this concept. Democracy in Cambodia remains stillborn. The authoritarian rule prevalent prior to 1993 in the areas controlled by the State of Cambodia, which was headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, has now spread to the entire country.  

The donor community has wasted a great deal of time and contributed to a great deal of suffering in Cambodia due to its failure to adopt a strong stance on replacing the authoritarian rule with democratic governance. While previous special representatives have made hundreds of recommendations, none of them have been implemented. (For details of recommendations by former special representatives visit The donor community must review this lack of implementation and find suitable modes of intervention to ensure that the recommendations are effected.  

The AHRC expresses its support to Special Representative Yash Ghai and hopes that the work he has begun will continue without interruption.   

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-056-2006
Countries : Cambodia,
Issues : International human rights mechanisms,