UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith praised the government for its efforts in addressing issues related to freedom of expression, judicial reforms and Covid-19 preventive measures.

Smith made the remarks on Tuesday as she met Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC) president Keo Remy via video conference that was also attended by representatives from the ministries of Interior; Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation; Justice; Information; and Health.

However, Smith also expressed concerns on Covid-19 disinformation and the passage of laws on civil society organisations.

She called for constant prevention of Covid-19 fake news and urged the government to accept inputs from civil society regarding the draft laws on associations and non-governmental organisations (Lango); public order; and the establishment of national human rights institutions.

The laws, she said, should be in line international human rights principles.

Smith said while she remains concerned about restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, she did not support rallies that violate the law and the rights of others, especially protests that can cause racial discrimination and disrupt public order and social security.

CHRC vice-president Chin Malin told The Post on Wednesday that the virtual meeting yielded positive results and demonstrated growing mutual understanding.

“What we can assess is that Smith seems to understand the real situation and reality in Cambodia and especially the legal basis and measures taken by the authorities,” he said.

Malin said the meeting provided a floor for Cambodia to explain in detail the current situation as opposed to biased allegations of human rights violations. He said the government shared some of her concerns and will do more to address them.

“We accept her suggestions and will continue to work together to improve the human rights situation in Cambodia,” he said.

Cambodian Institute for Democracy president Pa Chanroeun saw Smith’s positive assessment as merely an acknowledgement of the government’s efforts in containing Covid-19.

He claimed human rights abuses in Cambodia persist and the situation has not improved.

“As for the human rights situation and the decline of democratic processes in Cambodia, this is an indisputable fact that has prompted the EU to withdraw 20 per cent of its Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme. It’s because human rights abuses remain serious and systematic,” he said.

Chanroeun said he did not expect the government to follow Smith’s recommendations.

He said citizens, civil society organisations and relevant UN agencies will continue to monitor the situation and demand that the authorities fulfil their promises to respect human rights and democracy in Cambodia.

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