UN human rights envoy Surya Subedi yesterday said he was “alarmed” by anti-Vietnamese language used by the opposition party to rally its supporters, a message he said he had conveyed to Cambodia National Rescue Party leaders during his visit.
Speaking at a press conference to conclude his visit, Subedi said he had told CNRP leaders that tolerance and racial harmony would be crucial for the future of Cambodian democracy.
“I am alarmed by the anti-Vietnamese language allegedly used in public by the opposition,” he said.
Subedi also noted attacks on several Vietnamese-owned businesses during violent clashes between striking garment workers and authorities on January 3.
“Dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, incitement to racial discrimination, as well as acts of violence or incitement to such acts against any race or group of person of another colour or ethnic origin … have no place in a democratic society,” he said.
In talks with him, CNRP leaders had denied they meant what others had inferred from their statements, Subedi added in response to a question, without specifying what those inferences were.
“Whatever measures other people [had] inferred from their statements, it was not their intention. They were not implying that,” he said. “People were perhaps inferring different conclusions from that, but they [CNRP leadership] assured me they will [work], and they have worked, within a democratic framework and respecting tolerance and racial harmony.”
Vietnamese illegal immigrants living and working in Cambodia, as well as Vietnamese companies holding economic land concessions and alleged Vietnamese land-grabbing, have been a frequent theme of CNRP rhetoric both before and after the election.
In December, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights criticised the opposition initially for using “harmful language” against Vietnamese and later, in a follow-up statement, for singling out Vietnamese for criticism.
During Subedi’s last visit to the Kingdom in May, senior minister and Cambodian Human Rights Committee head Om Yentieng complained that Subedi never targeted the opposition. At the time, Yentieng said Subedi’s reports were weaker than European football arbitrators for not mentioning racial discrimination by the opposition and compared Subedi’s work to “an arrow shooting at one side of the government”.
Perhaps in response, Subedi’s press statement following that visit urged all sides to “refrain completely from exploiting racial sentiments” but did not specifically name the CNRP, in contrast to yesterday’s much stronger statement.
CNRP leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha could not be reached for comment yesterday, but a statement from the party released August 27 clarified its position on the Vietnamese issue.
“The CNRP opposes violence, racism, xenophobia and discrimination,” it said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DANIEL PYE