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UN Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith speaks with reporters yesterday after leaving a meeting at the Ministry of Justice.
UN Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith speaks with reporters yesterday after leaving a meeting at the Ministry of Justice. Hong Menea

Rapporteur holds series of meetings

UN Special Rapporteur to Cambodia Rhona Smith launched her third fact-finding mission yesterday, meeting with four government agencies and addressing concerns over curbs on the freedom of expression, peaceful demonstrations and rising pre-trial detention rates.

The high-stakes visit comes amid growing concerns of increasing strictures on human and civil rights and escalating political tensions, and after local and international rights groups criticised her for her perceived inaction.

Yesterday, the special rapporteur met with Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana, Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC) head Keo Remy, Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong and Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron.

Smith said she had informed Socheatvong of her concern over Monday’s attack on a human rights monitor by Daun Penh district security guards during a march marking World Habitat Day.

“We did express regret at the resulting violence, and he explained some of the background from his perspective,” she told reporters as she left City Hall.

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

At the meeting with the CHRC – which is a government body – Remy said the victims of the attack had the right to legal recourse, but also questioned the timing of the march and subsequent violence.

“Why did nothing happen before she arrived? The march and violent brawl happened only after she arrived in Cambodia,” Remy said.

Earlier in the day, Smith held a 90-minute meeting with Vong Vathana touching on a range of issues – reducing pre-trial detention, alternatives to prison sentences and the recent slew of legal cases against the opposition and land rights activists.

“We discussed the wide range of cases and the need to strengthen the evidentiary rules, and that [procedures] are carried out fairly,” she said.

Ministry spokesman Chin Malin, however, maintained the discussion stayed away from the current political situation and focused on technical strengthening of the ministry and courts.

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