Oct 28, 2010
Phnom Penh - A senior UN human rights official condemned '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,' said Kyung-wha Kang, the UN's deputy high commissioner for human rights, who arrived in Cambodia Tuesday with Ban's delegation.
A prominent local human rights group, Licadho, said earlier that Suong Sophorn had been beaten unconscious and dragged away by police who used electric shock batons and walkie-talkies to beat protestors.
Kang said the local UN human rights office had contacted the police, who later released Suong Sophorn 'as promised.'
'I have also received the petition of the [protestors] on behalf of the secretary general,' she said.
The protestors are to shortly be evicted from their homes in central Phnom Penh to make way for a large development by a well-connected company. They had unsuccessfully petitioned Ban to meet them to discuss their plight.
Licadho director Naly Pilorge said the beatings, which took place close to a hospital that Ban was visiting, was indicative of the government's approach to human rights and its international reputation.
'Either they don't understand the harm that this sort of incident causes to Cambodia's reputation, or they don't care, or perhaps they just think they can get away with it,' she said.
Earlier Thursday, Ban visited Phnom Penh's S-21 prison, where more than 14,000 people were tortured and marked for execution during the Khmer Rouge's rule of the country in the late 1970s.
Ban referred to the Khmer Rouge rule as a 'terrible chapter' in the country's history.
'But I want you to know that your courage has sent a strong and powerful message to the world that there can be no impunity, that crimes against humanity shall not go unpunished,' he said.
It has been an eventful trip for Ban.
On Wednesday, Cambodia's foreign minister said Prime Minister Hun Sen told Ban he would not permit any further prosecutions of former Khmer Rouge cadres, a statement that set off a storm of criticism about political interference in the judicial process.
But the government later appeared to moderate its tone when Minister for Information Khieu Kanharith said Hun Sen had merely expressed his desire to see no further prosecutions.
'We don't say forbidden because you cannot dictate, you cannot impose your will on the court,' Khieu Kanharith said.
Hun Sen also told Ban to close the UN human rights office because he deemed it was acting as a mouthpiece for the opposition and told him to sack the UN's country head for human rights, Christophe Peschoux.
Khieu Kanharith reiterated that position.
'It is time to close down the office,' he said. 'Both [the office and Peschoux] have to go.'
Ban left Cambodia Thursday after a three-day visit for Vietnam, where he is to attend a summit between the United Nations and the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations. He is to conclude his Asian tour in China.