Cambodia's Permanent Mission to the UN Office in Geneva on Friday hit back at David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression after he raised concerns over the repression of free speech and the right to information in certain countries during the Covid-19 pandemic, including Cambodia.
The Cambodian mission was utterly dismayed and said Kaye’s conclusion in his report was misleading and faulty regarding the nature of Cambodia’s integrated response to Covid-19.
It said the Cambodian government is ramping up its battle against the proliferation of false information.
“It appears that the special rapporteur fails to condemn disinformation and fake news, yet continues encouraging the free flow of information, possibly including harmful or unhealthy information.
“This approach deviates from that of UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, who cautions against the dangers of fake news and hate speech, which constitute an attack on the essence of human rights norms and principles,” it said.
On Friday, Kaye presented his report on freedom of expression and pandemics to the Human Rights Council, raising serious concern over new measures that he said have been used to restrict and punish the free flow of information. He said some governments, including Cambodia, had exercised repression.
In an Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) news release, Kaye said: “In the past three months, numerous governments have used the Covid pandemic to repress expression in violation of their obligations under human rights law.
“Since the earliest days of the pandemic, I have raised concerns about the repression of expression that has a direct impact on public health information, including Belarus, Cambodia, China, Iran, Egypt, India, Myanmar and Turkey.”
He said people had died because governments had lied, hidden information, detained reporters, failed to level with people about the nature of the threat, and criminalised individuals under the guise of spreading false information.
People have suffered, he said, because some governments would rather protect themselves from criticism than allow people to share information, learn about the outbreak and know what officials are or are not doing to protect them.
He made several recommendations including the release of journalists, reinforcing access to information and sharing as much information as possible about the disease.
People, Kaye said, should know about the tools available to protect themselves and their communities, while the practice of internet shutdowns and other limitations on access to the internet should be stopped.
In response, the Cambodian mission said the government has, on the contrary, taken measures to ensure that precious lives, particularly the most vulnerable ones, were not lost to Covid-19. All steps taken adhere to due process and principles of legality, necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination, it said.
“Cambodia always treasures freedom of expression and the press in line with the law, and is deeply conscious that the plurality of voices, including critical ones, matter as far as the continued functioning of its democracy is concerned,” the mission said.
It said Kaye did not stress the fact that in practice, freedom of expression carries special duties, responsibilities and limitations provided by law as stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.
This, it said, emboldens law-breakers, who readily exploit the precarious situation for their hidden agendas.
“It is imperative that the line of his [Kaye’s] mandate not be crossed, bearing in mind the code of conduct and the operation manual of the special procedures of the Human Rights Council,” it said.