Right groups and experts yesterday welcomed a report by UN Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith, but criticised it for failing to adequately address the recent jailing of five human rights staffers and the killing of political analyst Kem Ley.
An advance release of the report obtained this week deals with a slew of issues – democratic safeguards, treatment of indigenous people and gender issues – and is set be presented at the UN’s Human Rights Council (HRC) on September 28.
While Smith’s report does touch on criminal cases brought by the government against the leadership of the Cambodia National Rescue Party and “members of civil society”, observers say it does not go far enough to call out the government for these recent events.
“It is this reduction in democratic space and the associated human rights violations that have been the hallmark of the last year and deserve far more emphasis and urgency,” said Rupert Abbott, a human rights consultant.
He added that the report was, in itself, unlikely to galvanise the international community, though a statement put out on Wednesday by almost 40 countries at the HRC showed that there was “some momentum”.
Two months ago, Smith was sharply criticised by rights workers for failing to speak out about rights abuses by the Cambodian government. Yesterday, both Naly Pilorge, deputy director of advocacy at Licadho, and Chak Sopheap, executive director at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said that Smith had failed to address the glaring arrest and jailing of human rights activists in the country.
“Most urgently, at a time when at least 27 political prisoners – including human rights defenders – are still languishing in the country’s jails, we are astonished that the special rapporteur did not use this opportunity to call for their immediate and unconditional release,” said Pilorge.
While striking a more positive note on the “overdue, yet refreshingly clear” report, Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson said it was now up to “Phnom Penh-based diplomats” and the UN office to get vocal about the government’s use of “kangaroo courts” against its opponents.
In response to the statement released at the HRC on the country’s escalating political tensions, Cambodia’s representative to the UN in Geneva, Ney Sam Ol, said in a statement that some groups were merely manipulating and dramatising the current situation for their political ends. “Political parties or entities should not hide under the human rights’ umbrella to extort or hijack public order, tranquillity and the harmonisation of the society for their ill political gain.”