Cambodia's Senate yesterday swiftly rubber-stamped widely criticised amendments to the Law on Political Parties, but not without first promising to “take action” if the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights interfered in domestic affairs.
In a session lasting less than an hour yesterday, 44 ruling party senators approved the new legislation, which many observers have noted is a thinly veiled threat to dissolve the opposition party. Their Sam Rainsy Party counterparts boycotted the vote.
Senator Kong Sareach yesterday criticised the OHCHR’s February 24 request to meet with Say Chhum, president of the Senate, to discuss the amendments, saying it was “difficult to accept” and the UN body had not yet completed their analysis of the legislation.
“Cambodia cannot accept any interference or violence inside Cambodia, neither directly nor indirectly, and at any attempt Cambodia will take any actions appropriate in order to end this interference,” Sareach said.
“The [OHCHR] keeps violating the Senate body,” agreed Senate spokesman Mam Bunn Neang.
Cambodia People’s Party lawmaker Chheang Vun, who said he was “excited” to defend the controversial changes to the law, likewise slammed the organisation.
“This office should have ended long ago, since I was an ambassador [in 1994], because we know that it comes just to help the opposition to confront the CPP, and we are very regretful,” Vun said.
“Recently, our Foreign Affairs Ministry under. Minister Prak Sokhonn worked hard but did not gain success in forcing [the OHCHR] to recognise its role … It has no right to control and it comes just to assist Cambodia to develop human rights.”
The future of the OHCHR in the Kingdom was shrouded in uncertainty late last year, when its memorandum of understanding with Cambodia stalled for several months due to the government’s insistence that an updated agreement should include pointed references to “non-interference”.
Wan-Hea Lee, OHCHR representative in Cambodia, yesterday confirmed she had requested a meeting with the Senate’s president to discuss the draft amendments and the process of public consultation.
“I have difficulty understanding why a meeting or discussion should be construed by anyone as a sign of ‘control’, ‘a violation of the Senate’ [or] ‘interference’,” she said via email.
“It is our standard operating procedure for OHCHR to pursue dialogue worldwide … particularly with those in a position to take decisions with such far-reaching implications for human rights as these draft amendments.”
Lee said the invitation still stood, but it now appeared “too late to discuss these particular texts”.
She said she regretted the OHCHR’s human rights analysis of the amendments was not ready in time to be considered by the National Assembly or the Senate. “As we aim to produce thorough, well researched and helpful analyses, we simply could not keep up with the speed with which they were passed by both bodies,” she said.
The boycotting SRP senators yesterday said in a statement that the hastily crafted changes violated norms of liberal multi-party democracy, were designed to pressure the opposition and “will break up national unity”.
CPP Senator Chhit Kimyat slammed that interpretation of the revamped law.
“This is the thing that [the CNRP] sets up in order to make public confusion and to make the public follow them – this is destruction of our country, and we have worked hard to have such development like today, and everybody acknowledged that today’s development is wonderful,” he said.
Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson, meanwhile, said that yesterday’s comments from CPP senators were ill-informed.
“It’s really pathetic that the Cambodian government appoints Senators with such poor levels of knowledge about the role of the UN, human rights and international affairs,” he said. “No wonder officials like these are relegated to a rubber stamp body. With responses like this, no one should trust them with any real authority.”