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Prime Minister Hun Sen (center) talks to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (left) during the ASEAN-Australia Biennial Summit in Vientiane yesterday. Noel Celis/AFP
Prime Minister Hun Sen (center) talks to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (left) during the ASEAN-Australia Biennial Summit in Vientiane yesterday. Noel Celis/AFP

‘Growing concern’ at UN over ‘rights crisis’

Pressure was mounting inside the United Nations for a harder line to be taken with what is viewed as Cambodia’s deteriorating human rights and political situation even as Prime Minister Hun Sen met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the sidelines of an ASEAN summit in Vientiane on Tuesday.

The UN spokesperson’s website said that the Paris Climate Change Agreement, Cambodia’s peacekeeping commitments and the Khmer Rouge tribunals were discussed, among other issues. The premier wrote on his Facebook page yesterday that he agreed at the meeting to have Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhun ratify the Paris Agreement on September 21.

Concurrent to the premier’s meeting with Ban, spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Ravina Shamdasani issued a statement saying the OHCHR was “very concerned about the escalating atmosphere of intimidation” in Cambodia.

In an email yesterday, Shamdasani said the OHCHR is engaging with the government to seek the release of “people we believe have been detained in relation to their exercise of their human rights”.

“Unfortunately, the situation for political opponents, their supporters and civil society generally remains very tense,” she wrote.

Nicolas Agostini, Geneva-based representative to the UN for the International Federation for Human Rights, said in an email yesterday that the statement came at a time of “growing concern at the United Nations (both by states’ diplomats, UN staff, independent experts, and NGOs) over Cambodia’s human rights crisis”.

“The international community is realizing that Cambodia risks falling back into a cycle of human rights violations and political violence that will ultimately threaten the country’s stability,” Agostini wrote. “States are realizing that long-term stability cannot be guaranteed without respect for human rights and the rule of law, which includes free and fair elections.”

Agostini said concerns have already been voiced by Japan, the European Union, the US, Switzerland and a number of EU member states. He added, however, that China’s growing influence in Cambodia was inhibiting some countries from speaking out due to “geostrategic considerations”.

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