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Observers seek ‘honesty’ as rapporteur starts visit

Rights officials yesterday called on UN Special Rapporteur to Cambodia Rhona Smith to stick to her responsibility to assess fairly the rights environment and “be more honest” about Cambodia’s deteriorating political situation during a 10-day visit that starts today.

Smith will be embarking on her third visit to the country amid widespread and growing concerns of diminishing respect for human rights and escalating political tensions in the country. Smith presented a report to the Human Rights Council (HRC) last month in which she denounced the government for using the judiciary to stifle political opposition.

Smith had previously faced criticism for remaining silent on the jailing of opposition and human rights officials over the past few months, as well as in the aftermath of political analyst Kem Ley’s death in July.

However, Nicolas Agostini, representative to the UN for rights group FIDH, said Smith did course-correct last month when she raised those matters and the potential for political violence at the HRC, but the real test would be the criticism she will face from the government.

“She should make it clear that she is ready to use the ‘public reporting’ part of her mandate, as Cambodia is facing not only a political, but also a human rights crisis,” he said.

Meanwhile, Licadho’s Naly Pilorge said it was critical for Smith to “be more honest about the human rights violations she hears and sees” rather than manipulating her views to suit the ruling party.

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