Prime Minister Hun Sen refused on Thursday to meet with a United Nations expert currently visiting Cambodia on a fact-finding mission, saying he has no time to listen to “the recommendations of a foreigner” on the situation of human rights in the country.
Hun Sen said he would not meet with U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia Surya Subedi, who arrived Sunday for an eight-day investigative visit, adding that according to the constitution he is only answerable to the nation’s national assembly, or parliament, and his constituency.
“I’m not responsible to [answer to] anyone,” the prime minister said, speaking at a graduation ceremony at the University of Cambodia in the capital Phnom Penh. “In short, I don’t have time for any recommendations.”
“I heard he wants to meet me but I don’t have time for that,” he said.
Hun Sen said he “the integrity of the country to uphold.”
“You can criticize me, but I am working for my country,” he said.
“Should I [spend my time] implementing a foreigner’s recommendations or implementing the law?” he asked.
Hun Sen said that he had been unaware of a request by Subedi to meet with him. The Cambodia Daily reported that the Special Rapporteur had sent a letter to the prime minister asking for a meeting some three weeks ago.
Hun Sen said that Cambodia is willing to listen to the recommendations of others, but that they should not act as an authority in the country.
Since his appointment in March 2009, Subedi has made eight visits to Cambodia and has presented five reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council, which renewed his mandate for a further two years in March 2011.
He had hoped to meet with government officials, including Hun Sen, and with King Norodom Sihamoni, in addition to representatives from Cambodia’s nongovernmental organizations, the country’s donor community, and the United Nations country team.
Hun Sen reportedly said that the King would not receive Subedi either because he is busy mourning the loss of his father, former King Norodom Sihanouk, who died of a heart attack in October.
At the end of his eight-day mission, the Special Rapporteur will release a press statement highlighting the issues raised during his meetings and summarizing his initial conclusions.
Call for dialogue
Subedi responded to Hun Sen’s statement by stressing the “importance of dialogue” with all stakeholders, and “particularly with the Royal government.”
“I interact with various actors in Cambodian society, including civil society and development partners, and we disagree on certain things. But we continue our dialogue to find a common ground and that is what I wish to do with the government too,” Subedi said in a statement to RFA’s Khmer Service on Thursday.
“I have no intention of—and it is not a matter of—imposing anything on the government of this country,” he said.
“All I am trying to do as part of my job on behalf of the U.N. is to advise the government what its obligations are under international law and suggest a way forward in my capacity as an independent expert of the U.N.”
Hun Sen said he “fully respects” Cambodia’s sovereignty and that of the government.
“I am heartened to hear that the Prime Minister will continue to listen to my recommendations, which I feel are in the best interests of the country.”
Subedi has been critical of Cambodia’s progress on human rights during this visit, saying on Wednesday that the country’s judicial system is still “chronically underfunded” and laws on its management are almost 20 years overdue, according to the Cambodia Daily.
A year ago, on his sixth mission to Cambodia, Subedi had said reform in the country’s courts was moving at a “frustratingly slow” pace.
On Wednesday, he said laws on the establishment of judges, organization of the judiciary, and reform of the Supreme Court Magistracy—all of which he had called for—have yet to materialize.
On Tuesday, the Special Rapporteur vowed to appeal to the government on the behalf of victims of land disputes in the country.
But Subedi has recently been given the cold shoulder by Cambodian officials who rejected a report he released in August which called for electoral reforms and accused authorities of rights violations over economic land concessions.
At the time, Om Yin Tieng, head of the government’s Human Rights Committee, said Subedi was siding with the country’s political opposition and civil society.
In another report, Subedi also warned that Cambodia could plunge into violence if it does not reform the current electoral system to allow for fair and free elections.
Subedi will present his next report to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council at its September 2013 session.
Reported by Sok Ry Sum for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.