Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday said “the forest had not been seen for the trees” when the human rights situation in Cambodia was assessed and that the Kingdom would not bow to preaching on the matter.
Hun Sen was presiding over a ceremony on Monday to mark the transfer of the Krousar Thmey School for the deaf and blind from an NGO to the supervision of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport when he made his comments.
He said he would soon deliver a speech to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to highlight the progress of human rights in Cambodia.
“If we were to look at each of the ‘trees’ and make an assessment, it would not be correct. Looking at the countries with advanced human rights and democracy over the past 40 years, what is the situation in them now?
“I want to stress that there have been backward developments, including the refugee crisis, even in Europe. In Cambodia, people died every day in wars in the past 40 years, but gradually we have made great strides and life has been reborn,” Hun Sen stressed.
The prime minister said human rights do not exist when there is shelling and people dying every day.
He said the current Cambodian situation was far from that, and that the right to life did not begin with something written in a newspaper.
“I can speak clearly about this, and it is why Cambodia will not bow our head to the preaching from others, because people died in aeroplane bombings and shelling."
“Every day we did not know how many people had been killed. Did those doing this respect human rights? Did they know human rights?” Hun Sen said.
Likely referring to opposition politicians, Hun Sen said: “Human rights is not the right to slander others and cause problems. Rights cover a wide range [of things].
“If we just look at each tree, you can criticise [us]. But you should look at the social landscape [in which people] enjoy freedoms and rights, including those I have just mentioned,” he said, referring to the rights of the deaf and blind.
He said he cared about all aspects of human rights, while some critics only focused on a single one to make a negative judgement on the overall situation.
“I don’t want to preach to anyone, and I don’t want anyone to preach to me, in the name of an independent,sovereign country,” he said.
Hun Sen said he would fly to Switzerland on Tuesday to attend the Aid for Trade Global Review 2019 from Wednesday to Friday at the World Trade Organisation in Geneva.
He would also deliver a speech in the same city at the 41st regular session of the UNHRC.
And on Monday, he would meet with 700 students and members of the Kingdom’s diaspora.
The prime minister again called on those who wished to protest against him to face his supporters in Geneva on Thursday at 4pm.
Cambodia Human Rights Committee spokesperson Chin Malin said on Monday that Hun Sen had spoken the truth regarding Cambodia.
He said that compared to some neighbouring countries, the human rights situation in the Kingdom was far better.
“However, when assessments are made by certain groups with a political agenda and the intention to discredit the government, they attach their political context and agenda to these assessments, including legal action against their group,” Malin said.
These included some civil society groups, a former opposition party and their allied media.
Chak Sopheap, the executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said Rhona Smith, the UNHRC’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia, had pointed out several areas in which the Kingdom needed to take concrete measures to improve the respect for human rights and fully restore the civic space.
She said the human rights situation in Cambodia had “deteriorated”, which had prompted the European Commission to launch the formal procedure that could lead to the temporary suspension of Cambodia’s access to the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement.
“It is important that Cambodia takes concrete steps to meaningfully restore the civic space and ensure the EU’s concerns are addressed so that Cambodians can continue to enjoy the benefits of EBA, and for all Cambodians to be able to enjoy the full respect of all their human rights,” she said.
Cambodia should ensure the effective implementation of the recommendations of the UN’s Universal Periodic Reviews in the coming years, she said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said by making such a statement, Hun Sen had rejected “the country’s undertakings in respecting human rights under the Paris Peace Agreements and the constitution, the obligations and rights of other state parties to the same agreements and international human rights instruments”.
“More importantly, he has repudiated the role of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and that of the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in promoting, monitoring and evaluating the human rights situation in Cambodia,” he said.