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Justice Ministry praises UN rapporteur

Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith shakes hands with Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana in March during a meeting in Phnom Penh.
Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith shakes hands with Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana in March during a meeting in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Justice Ministry praises UN rapporteur

Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin sang the praises of UN Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith on Saturday, following a report in the Post on Friday that she had lost the confidence of many in the human rights community.

Malin took to Facebook to praise Smith for what he termed her professionalism, neutrality and lack of a political agenda.

“Therefore, I believe you will face lots of challenges in your mission here while you are trying to maintain your political neutrality and change a long history of the politically bias [sic] UN system in Cambodia,” he wrote. “Hopefully you will be able to overcome all those challenges and complete your mission successfully.”

Numerous observers, from both local and international organisations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, spoke last week of frustration they said had been simmering for some time over what is perceived as Smith’s silence and inactivity since taking over the role of special rapporteur in March 2015.

Among the organisations that spoke to the Post was Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’Homme (FIDH). The organisation’s representative to the UN, Nicolas Agostini, said in a message yesterday that the quantity of insults a rapporteur receives from the government is a far better barometer of their success than its praise.

John Coughlan, previously an employee of the UN’s human rights office in Cambodia, said it was no surprise the government was pleased with Smith.

“A large part of her job is to call the government out on abuses and the government can only be pleased when she fails to do so,” he said. “Frankly it’s disturbing that a government spokesperson should be focusing on praising the rapporteur’s relative inaction at a time when people in Cambodia are shocked at the escalation in the political situation and afraid of what comes next.”

Legal and human rights consultant Billy Tai yesterday described the Justice Ministry spokesman’s compliments as “a rare event”. “Some in the NGO world would say that if the government’s praising you, then you’re not doing the right thing,” Tai said. “There is something to working collaboratively with the government, but when the government lacks the will to implement political and human rights reforms, that’s troubling.”

Political commentator Ou Virak, who is currently facing defamation charges that are widely believed to be politically motivated, said Smith’s silence over his case, along with that of jailed Adhoc and National Election Committee staff, and even that of a UN human rights office staffer threatened with arrest, left him “surprised and upset”.

“She might not have realised what her position entailed when she applied for it. It could come as a surprise it isn’t a walk in the park and people expect her to step up on very sensitive issues and cases,” Virak wrote.

Attempts to reach Smith over the past several days have been unsuccessful.

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