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Annual report to UNHRC calls for ‘release of Sokha’

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Rhona Smith, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia. Hong Menea

Annual report to UNHRC calls for ‘release of Sokha’

Rhona Smith, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia mentioned the release of Kem Sokha, the president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) as the first of 22 recommendations in her annual report.

Smith also acknowledged improvements in her 20-page report that was submitted at the 42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Monday.

A government official described the report as “balanced”.

Smith’s Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia report covered a wide range of issues – from the Kingdom’s current political and human rights situation to the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

She appeared pleased with some areas of the SDGs – part of the government’s Rectangular Strategy Phase IV. Among them were initiatives to improve transparency and efficiency in public institutions.

Smith also appreciated the one-stop service windows aimed at bringing a variety of services closer to people in a simple, transparent and accountable way.

Displaying prices and charges for services lessened the chances of corruption, she said, adding that the services should be reviewed and rolled out across the country if deemed successful.

Budgetary transparency, Smith said,had also been improved, with the release of the executive summary of the annual budget.

However, Smith also pointed out areas of concern, particularly with regards to politics, human rights and freedoms.

“A year on from the national elections of July 29, 2018, the human rights situation in Cambodia remains dominated by the repression of political rights,” she claimed, raising the banning of the CNRP and the detention of Sokha as points of contention.

She claimed that the political rights of former CNRP supporters and members continued to be denied, with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party consolidating “its overwhelming dominance over state institutions”.

“The Special Rapporteur has noted aggressive rhetoric from the leaders of both the Cambodian People’s Party and the former CNRP, which is doing nothing to move beyond the current political situation and create a spirit of dialogue and reconciliation.

“As Cambodia advanced into its new political mandate as a de facto one-party state, a new political culture, focusing on issues, openness to different opinions and the free expression of ideas, would go a long way to ensuring a shared future that benefits all Cambodians,” the report said.

In her first recommendation, Smith called on the government to release Sokha from “detention” and conclude the investigation “swiftly” or “drop the charges”.

Her third recommendation called for “the creation of a space for political dialogue between the government and opposition political actors, including members of the former CNRP, and holding discussions including on reinstating the 118 banned members of the CNRP”.

Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC) spokesperson Chin Malin said Smith’s report was balanced as she had appreciated the efforts the government had made in terms of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Cambodia.

However, he said the Special Rapporteur must raise certain concerns as these were brought to her by the former opposition party and some NGOs.

“Most of her recommendations can be accepted, especially about the SDGs and ‘leaving no one behind’. We have carried out most of the SDGs, but some are in process,” Malin said.

He said concerning the recommendations regarding the CNRP, Cambodia had explained to her on several occasions that such matters were in the hands of the courts.

Rehabilitated former CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrath said on Tuesday that the concerns raised by Smith regarding the political situation were also the concerns of the international community.

“If the government is willing to push democracy forward, the only way is to improve the political climate – meaning there should be no harassment or arrests of CNRP members or people with opposition views,” Chanrath said.

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said Smith’s report was “meant to call on the government to restore justice and human rights for Kem Sokha and his colleagues, who had all fallen victim to the unjust and unconstitutional amending of the Law on Political Parties and verdict of the Supreme Court dissolving the CNRP”.

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