Ney Samol, the Permanent Representative of Cambodia to the UN Office in Geneva, last week responded to the “fallacious allegation” that the application of the law in the Kingdom “has shrunk the space for freedom of expression”.
The criticism on Cambodia’s rights situation was expressed by the delegates of France, Australia, the UK and the EU during the general debate on the oral update by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights worldwide.
“It is ironic that the delegates requested Cambodia to strengthen democracy, human rights and the rule of law, but when [Cambodian] authorities enforced the law, they accuse us of restricting the right to freedom of expression."
“Even worse, they have taken human rights as a hostage when it comes to economic preferential treatment extended to Cambodia,” he said.
At the 41st Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council held last Monday, Rita French of the UK delegation said Kem Sokha “continues to be in detention without trial in Cambodia”.
“We urge Cambodia to maintain opening constructive dialogue with the EU on the Everything But Arms [EBA] trade procedure to prevent negative impacts on the most vulnerable,” she said.
Similarly, Francois Gave of the French delegation called upon Cambodia to reopen its political space and to pursue cooperation with the human rights mechanism, while Australia’s Sally Mansfield said she was concerned over the shrinking of civil society space in some countries, including the Kingdom.
Moreover, Walter Stevens of the EU delegation said the bloc had continuously called on Cambodia “to restore democracy by releasing opposition leader Sokha and reinstating political rights for all opposition members”.
Responding to the criticism, Samol said: “All citizens are equally treated before the law regardless of their political status or their past. A person is legally accountable not because of who he is but what offences he has committed.”
Samol further explained that individuals were duty bound to exercise their rights responsibly in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
He reiterated that “Cambodia contributed to numerous UN peacekeeping and humanitarian actions in many countries, namely the Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, Sudan, South Sudan, Cyprus and Lebanon”.
With regard to the EU’s preferential Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement, Samol said Cambodia needed aid and assistance but the country’s sovereignty could not be compromised.
“Aid could not be taken as a hostage at the expense of sovereignty. If the heat is too hot to withstand, we will get out of the kitchen,” he concluded.
A week earlier, Samol responded to concerns raised by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedoms of opinion and expression, David Kaye, and Rhona Smith, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia.
Kaye and Smith had previously said they were “concerned about the escalating trend of suppression by the Cambodian government of dissenting opinions in what appears to be an attempt to intimidate or silence political opinion”.
The pair said they were concerned over the use of criminal law to target free speech, including that which is online.
But Samol said it had often been observed that, in the eyes of the Special Rapporteurs, the Cambodian government was presumed guilty until proven innocent whenever it took action to enforce the law.
Even “a tiny action” from the government “operated as a shield and not a sword”, he said.