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Cablegate: Cambodia, Unhcr, and the Uighurs: The Madness Of

VZCZCXRO2715
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0957/01 3561020
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 221020Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1497
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 2593
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 1714

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 PHNOM PENH 000957

SIPDIS

GENEVA FOR RMA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/21/2019
TAGS: PREF PREL PGOV PHUM CB
SUBJECT: CAMBODIA, UNHCR, AND THE UIGHURS: THE MADNESS OF
THE METHOD (PART I)

REF: A. PHNOM PENH 954 (DEPORTATION SCENARIO)
B. PHNOM PENH 953 (NOTAL)
C. PHNOM PENH 934 (UIGHURS MOVE AGAIN)
D. PHNOM PENH 926 (AMBASSADOR MEETING WITH DPM SAR
KHENG)
E. PHNOM PENH 925 (UPDATE ON UIGHUR ASYLUM-SEEKERS)
F. PHNOM PENH 913 (AMBASSADOR MEETING WITH UNHCR)

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires a.i. Theodore Allegra; Reasons 1.4 (B,
D)

1. (C) SUMMARY: In a joint demarche on Deputy Foreign
Minister Long Visalo December 21, Ambassadors and Charge
strongly protested the deportation of 20 Uighur asylum
seekers on December 19, noted that the deportation had
occurred despite repeated assurances by senior Cambodian
officials that it would not, and sought renewed assurances
that Cambodia would not deport persons seeking refugee status
in the future before their cases had been determined. Visalo
blamed the result on the repeated failings of UNHCR to accept
and assert its traditional role and cooperation with the
Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) in handling sensitive
refugee cases, and asserted that - after waiting for months
for appropriate UNHCR action - the RGC had no choice but to
deport the group as illegal entrants under Cambodian
immigration laws. This is Part I of a two-part message; a
report on a meeting by the same group on the same day with
UNHCR Regional Director Raymond Hall is Septel. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) Charge joined British Ambassador Andrew Mace in a
demarche to Cambodian Acting Foreign Minister Long Visalo
December 21 to protest the deportation of 20 Uighur asylum
seekers to China on December 19. Ambassador Mace also
represented the European Union for purposes of the demarche,
and the resident ambassadors from Australia and Germany also
participated.

PROTESTS, ASSURANCES, AND CREDIBILITY
-------------------------------------

3. (C) Mace thanked Visalo for his active involvement in this
case during a very busy weekend, but registered his strong
disappointment that his urgent request to meet Prime Minister
Hun Sen before the deportation occurred was not accepted. He
noted the EU and UK's strong condemnation of the RGC decision
to deport the group prior to a credible determination of
their refugee status as required by international law. He
added neither the UK nor the EU took a position as to whether
the entire group, or a portion of it, would ultimately have
been eligible for refugee status, but said that Cambodia's
actions disregarded the process entirely and thus the
protections under the Refugee Convention were not afforded to
the group. Emphasizing that Cambodia's decision had been
especially disappointing given the "continuing assurances and
specific undertakings made to UNHCR and others by RGC
officials" that a credible and legitimate process would be
followed for the group, Mace concluded that the Cambodian
decision appeared to be arbitrary. As a result, he looked
forward to Visalo's accounting of the issue and why a
"wholesale abandonment" of its refugee responsibilities took
place.

4. (C) All other diplomats present echoed and joined with
Ambassador Mace's remarks. In addition, Australian
Ambassador Margaret Adamson asked whether the world should
expect to witness "a repetition of breaches by Cambodia," and
sought assurances about the future status of "those who
remain under protection" in Cambodia. German Ambassador
Frank Mann stressed his dismay about the seemingly
intentional unavailability of senior RGC officials during the
weekend to address this critical issue.

5. (C) Charg noted that the United States had reaffirmed its
strong opposition to involuntary return of this group of
asylum seekers in several meetings with RGC officials in
recent weeks. Each time, the government assured the United
States that the group would not be deported and that the RGC
would cooperate with UNHCR to process these cases in
accordance with international refugee principles. He
highlighted the positive remarks made by Deputy Prime
Minister Sar Kheng to Ambassador Rodley on this issue only
the day before the deportation process began (Ref D), and
asked Visalo how the deportation could not put into question
the government's credibility on this issue. It was
especially regrettable, Charg added, that Cambodia deported
this group to a state which is also signatory to the refugee
convention. Finally, Charge underscored the concern
expressed by the Australian Ambassador about those who remain

PHNOM PENH 00000957 002 OF 003


in Cambodia under protection of UNHCR legal process as
persons of concern or otherwise, and asked for assurances
that they would not be deported without the benefits of the
international protections to which they were entitled.

UNHCR DELAYS AND FAILURES GAVE THE RGC NO CHOICE
--------------------------------------------- ---

6. (C) An unusually nonconfrontational Long Visalo said that
the RGC remained committed to implementing the refugee
convention in accordance with international standards, but
criticized UNHCR for the "many problems" that arose in this
case. He argued that the UNHCR had provided "no official
notification" of the group (Note: an assertion vehemently
denied later that day by UNHCR. End Note.), and said that the
government only learned that the group was in Cambodia from
media reports, including Radio Free Asia. Citing the
successes in resettling scores of Montagnard refugees from
Vietnam, he argued there was a "big difference" in how UNHCR
coordinated with the government in this case. As a result,
Visalo asserted that the Uighurs were determined to be
illegal immigrants in Cambodia and had to be deported.

7. (C) Visalo continued to blame UNHCR for the debacle he
seemed to instinctively understand his government's action
had created. He said he asked the UNHCR protection officer
Toshitsuki Kawaudi (Toshi) on December 10 why UNHCR had not
informed the government and why it had delivered "persons of
concern" letters without consultation. He insisted to UNHCR
that it therefore accept "control" over the group and assume
responsibility for its safety and security, a request that he
said was forthrightly dismissed by UNHCR because none of the
group "had been designated as refugees." Again referring to
the successful resettlement of Montagnard cases, Visalo said
he regretted that what he had learned from those cases - that
speed was essential to a successful process in sensitive
cases - was not apparent in how UNHCR handled this group,
which was characterized by "no information and no
responsibility."

8. (C) By December 14, he said the situation had become "more
acute" and, in a meeting between Deputy UNHCR Regional
Representative Giuseppe de Vincentis, the RGC officially
agreed to "joint control" of the group (REF F). But Visalo
said he was still "not satisfied" because the UNHCR did not
accept the practicalities of what that control meant.
Accordingly, he said he told de Vincentis that "if you don't
accept control over this group, we will send them out of the
country." Quite animated, Visalo said that he emphasized the
need for an expeditious process to determine refugee status,
and that process had not even begun yet despite the fact that
one of the group had been in Cambodia since June and the
others had been in country for at least a month - "enough
time to have good cooperation," he stressed. Thus, he said
he told de Vincentis that the group "would be considered as
illegal entrants and processed pursuant to immigration law"
if UNHCR did not act to discharge its responsibilities as it
had in the past. Two days later, on December 16, the group
was moved in order to afford more protection for them (Ref
A). At that time, Visalo and UNHCR discovered that two of
the group had gone missing. "Where are the others?," Visalo
said he asked Toshi; Toshi replied that he "didn't know."
Thus, Visalo concluded that it was abundantly clear that
UNHCR had neither the willingness nor the ability to
"control" the group as refugee status determinations
proceeded.

9. (C) Concluding, Visalo said he regretted what had happened
but, under the circumstances it was necessary "in order to
protect our immigration laws." He asserted that Cambodia had
wanted cooperation with UNHCR in this case, and assured his
objective remained to have fruitful cooperation with UNHCR in
future cases in accordance with refugee convention
principles. He noted that Cambodia fully understood "its
obligations under the treaty," had always recognized those
obligations in the past, and remained prepared to implement
its obligations in the future. To that end, he said he was
hopeful that this case would provide good lessons of how to
avoid problems in the future.

10. (C) In response, UK Ambassador Mace underscored the need
for close cooperation with UNHCR and the need for RGC
credibility in the assurances that it provided to the
international community about future cooperation. But
whatever procedural shortcomings of UNHCR may have existed in
this case, they did not invalidate the rights of individuals
to the protections afforded them under international law.
Moreover, there is "no incompatibility" between domestic

PHNOM PENH 00000957 003 OF 003


immigration laws and the international refugee convention, as
the latter clearly states that immigration violations are not
grounds to avoid protection responsibilities for those
seeking asylum. Charg added that Cambodia had many
opportunities to raise with the United States and others in
the diplomatic community whatever UNHCR deficiencies may have
existed before taking a decision to deport the group, and
never did so. Ambassador Adamson echoed that point, and
stressed there had been "clear signals from many capitals"
that alternatives existed to deportation but, because the
government did not appear to consider them, practical
solutions to resolve the government's frustrations with UNHCR
were not possible.

11. (C) COMMENT: Long Visalo is no stranger to international
law, is usually a technocrat in his approach to legal issues,
and has had numerous opportunities in the past to implement
the refugee convention properly and in accordance with
internationally accepted practice. Thus, it is perhaps a
surprise that he didn't resort to familiar tactics to argue
the law with his interlocutors, but that he based his defense
to what he knew in advance would be a difficult meeting on
the failures of UNHCR to do what the RGC expected it to do.
Much of the international and NGO community actually shares
at least some of Visalo's view about how UNHCR seemed to
abdicate its usual role in this sensitive case, but the fact
remains that the RGC had many opportunities to highlight its
frustrations and many alternatives to consider short of
deportation. That it chose not to do so is likely a
reflection of the urgencies compelled by rampant publicity,
persistent frustrations with UNCHR, and pressure from China
in the runup to Vice President Xi Jinping's visit to Cambodia
on December 20 (in which USD 1.2 billion in bilateral
assistance was at stake). We will analyze these issues in
greater detail in coming days but, for now at least, it
appears that Cambodia ran out of time and patience and felt
compelled to take urgent action at the eleventh hour -
knowingly discarding its responsibilities under international
law in the process. And because the RGC likely did not
anticipate in advance the strength of international reaction
to its decision, it is not surprising that Visalo's focus on
assurances of future cooperation with UNHCR is the best he
can muster under the circumstances. END COMMENT.
ALLEGRA

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