Cablegate: Unsrsg for Human Rights in Cambodia: Cambodians

Published: Mon 18 Aug 2008 09:57 AM
DE RUEHPF #0684/01 2310957
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E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/15/2018
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Classified By: Political Officer Janet Deutsch for reasons 1.4 (b) and
1. (C) Summary: An upcoming U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC)
vote on whether to extend the mandate of the UN Special
Representative of the Secretary-General for human rights in
Cambodian (SRSG) prompted the recent visit of Japanese MFA
officials from Tokyo and Geneva with the delegation reporting
that their attempts to discuss an extended Special Procedure
mandate failed. During August 14 discussions, RGC Human
Rights Committee Director General Om Yientieng was said to
have been hung up on his dislike for current SRSG Yash Ghai,
whom Cambodian government officials have criticized for being
too harsh and inaccurate in his assessments of human rights
in Cambodia (Refs A and B). Cambodian MFA Secretary of State
Ouch Borith also expressed an aversion to Yash Ghai but the
Japanese delegation reported that with Ouch Borith it seemed
that the "window is still open" for a continued Cambodia
country mandate. Japanese MFA Geneva-based Counselor Osamu
Yamanaka indicated that Japan would be supportive of changing
the mandate to a Special Rapporteur role explaining that this
change would be in line with the HRC's general movement
toward standardizing country-specific mandates; would help
the Cambodians make a break with the mind-set of past bad
relations with SRSGs; and would set the stage for Cambodia to
have some input in the choosing of the individual to fulfill
the role thereby giving the Cambodian government some
ownership of the process and outcome. Japan will also
support the establishment of milestones that would determine
the end point of a Cambodia country-specific mandate in order
to give the RGC a sense that there is "a light at the end of
the tunnel." Post believes the current human rights
situation in Cambodia necessitates a continued
country-specific mandate, and that a Special Rapporteur role
and a new person to fill it may be the fresh start needed for
a constructive mandate. However, the benchmarks that the
Japanese propose need to be reviewed to determine whether
they would address the most serious Cambodia human rights
concerns. End summary.
2. (C) During an August 15 meeting with Emboffs, Japanese
MFA Director of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs
Division Mitsuko Shino and Geneva-based Counselor Osamu
Yamanaka reported that they held extensive meetings with
Cambodian MFA Secretary of State Ouch Borith and Human Rights
Committee Director General Om Yientieng discussing the
September 2008 U.N. HRC vote on whether to extend the SRSG
mandate for Cambodia. Both Cambodian government officials
expressed to the Japanese delegation their disdain for the
current SRSG Yash Ghai who has been publicly criticized by
Prime Minister Hun Sen and other Cambodian government
officials for being too harsh and inaccurate in his reporting
on the Cambodian human rights situation. Shino recounted Om
Yientieng's emotional and frustrated fixation on SRSG Yash
Ghai when the specific topic of the future of the SRSG
mandate was broached and said that, as a result, the
conversation about the RGC's official position on the mandate
did not go further. However, Shino said she believes that
the Cambodians have a sense of resignation about the SRSG
mandate, to the point that she believes that the Cambodians
may not do much to oppose it. In particular, Shino said she
felt that Ouch Borith was leaving the window open for the
extension of the mandate though he did not expressly state
3. (SBU) Director Mitsuko Shino told Emboffs that the RGC
officials stated Cambodia is not acknowledged enough for its
human rights progress, especially in light of its standing as
a young democracy. They said they believe Cambodia is doing
the best that it can, and are frustrated that too much is
asked of Cambodia. Yamanaka said that Ouch Borith talked
about examples of advancement such as the RGC's willingness
to discuss corruption issues and the progress of the Khmer
Rouge Tribunal (KRT). Yamanaka said that the RGC was willing
to take the Japanese delegation on a visit to an area of one
of the more contested land cases, and that Ouch Borith was
enthusiastic about Cambodian police taking up the FBI's offer
of investigation assistance in the recent killing of
opposition newspaper journalist Khem Sambo.
4. (C) Shino indicated that the Japanese government is in
favor of changing the SRSG mandate to one of a special
rapporteur. SRSGs and special rapporteurs generally have the
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same monitoring and reporting mandates, and are both
considered to fall into the group of HRC Special Procedures
that also includes independent experts. However, SRSGs are
appointed by the Secretary-General but for rapporteurs the
appointment procedure is carried out by the HRC. For special
rapporteurs, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human
Rights (OHCHR) prepares an eligible candidate list and
submits it to an HRC consultative group for shortlisting; the
consultative group presents the shortlist to the HRC
president at least one month before the beginning of the
session in which the HRC would consider the selection of the
mandate holder; the president then presents the shortlist to
the HRC; the HRC reviews candidates and appoints a mandate
holder. (Note: Nine countries and territories have special
procedure mandates: Burundi, Cambodia, DPRK, Haiti, Liberia,
Burma, the "Palestinian territories occupied since 1967" (as
the rapporteur mandate is named by the HRC), Somalia, and
Sudan. Of these, Cambodia has the only SRSG mandate; four
have special rapporteur mandates; four have independent
expert mandates. In 2007 and 2008, the country mandates of
Belarus, Cuba and the Democratic Republic of Congo were
discontinued. End note.)
5. (C) Counselor Yamanaka stated that Cambodia could have
some involvement with the identification process for a
special rapporteur which may help create RGC buy-in and give
the RGC some ownership of the mandate. He added that the
change to a rapporteur mandate could help the Cambodian
government make a break with the past, giving the Cambodians
a fresh start for a constructive relationship. Additionally,
Yamanaka stated that the change from an SRSG to a rapporteur
would be in line with the HRC's current movement to
standardize country-specific mandates. He also expressed
support for a special rapporteur mandate that would be a
"simplified version" of the current SRSG resolution adopted
in 1993. The 1993 resolution is shorter than two and half
pages but contains lines about Cambodia's transitional period
and the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia
(UNTAC) mandate, and establishes the presence of the OHCHR
Cambodia Country Office, then called the U.N. Center for
Human Rights. The portion of the resolution establishing the
SRSG is five lines long, detailing the following
responsibilities of the SRSG: a) to maintain contact with
the Government and people of Cambodia; b) to guide and
coordinate the U.N. human rights presence in Cambodia; c) to
assist the Government in the promotion and protection of
human rights and c) to report to the General Assembly and
Commission on Human Rights. Yamanaka stated that the
Japanese government would support the "de-linking" of the
issues of the special procedure mandate for Cambodia and the
OHCHR Cambodia Office.
6. (C) Yamanaka stated that the Japanese government is in
favor of setting benchmark goals for the Cambodian
government, the achievement of which would signal the end of
the necessity for a Cambodia country mandate on human rights.
Specifically, Yamanaka suggested benchmarks might be the
successful conclusion of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, and
benchmarks based on the principles of the planned ASEAN Human
Rights Mechanism.
7. (C) According to a OHCHR Cambodia Office source, if there
is indecision or a lack of consensus on the part of the
international community come the time of the Cambodia mandate
vote in September, it is possible that the HRC may vote to
extend the current SRSG mandate for another year. If that is
the case, as an appointee of the Secretary-General, the
decision as to whether Yash Ghai goes or not is essentially
up to Yash Ghai himself. Yamanaka stated that he has heard
that Yash Ghai has been mostly focused on his constitutional
consultation work in Nepal and has not been in regular
contact regarding Cambodia. There are unconfirmed reports
that he may wish to resign from his SRSG role but he has not
yet stated his intentions. There was even some speculation
that Yash Ghai may not be able to personally attend the
September HRC session to present his report due to his work
in Nepal. If this is the case, it may be a signal of his
further disengagement with the appointment.
8. (C) We agree with many in the Cambodia donor community
that Yash Ghai is not constructive as the SRSG on human
rights in Cambodia. His presence as SRSG is
counter-prodcutive; for as long as Yash Ghai serves as SRSG,
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there will be no engagement with the Cambodian government.
Still, there is much to be done on human rights in Cambodia
and a change to a special rapporteur role is a good way to
transition into an effective mechanism for addressing human
rights concerns. We conclude from the Japanese delegation's
interaction with RGC officials that discussion about the
upcoming mandate vote will be a delicate matter.
Communication that includes the possible "incentives" for a
special rapporteur mandate might work best: 1) Cambodia
would be seen as graduating from the need for an SRSG; 2) a
special rapporteur appointment process would be inclusive of
Cambodia's input, or at least its consultation; 3)
collaborative monitoring and reporting may be a way to help
the RGC and donor community identify development priorities.
9. (C) We do not believe that the OHCHR Cambodia Office
should be de-linked from the special procedure issue. OHCHR
has been doing great work in line with its technical
assistance mandate in Cambodia, and provides necessary
support for the special procedure mandate. By de-linking the
issue of the OHCHR Office, we would be delaying another
conversation that would have to take place before March 2009
when the Office's mandate comes up for a vote. We believe
that the part of the discussion with the RGC about the Office
will be less strained -- the OHCHR Cambodia Office has the
support of some high-level officials such as Deputy Prime
Minister Sar Kheng.
10. (C) Finally, we agree that setting benchmarks may be a
useful tool; the RGC may be encouraged by the designation of
certain achievable goals that would indicate the end of the
need for a special procedure mandate. They would also
provide an incentive for Cambodia to meet human rights
standards. The successful completion of the KRT is a good
example of an achievable, meaningful goal. The planned ASEAN
Human Rights Mechanism might be another benchmark, though it
has not yet made public its human rights principles. Other
proposed benchmarks should be reviewed in the context of
Cambodia's human rights situation and compared to the
principles in the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, to which
Cambodia is a signatory, to ensure that some of Cambodia's
most severe human rights issues -- such as the lack of rule
of law, impunity for violent acts, and reduced press freedoms
-- are addressed.
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