Addressing the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, Minister of Foreign Affairs Prak Sokhonn highlighted differing international attitudes to Cambodia and accused negative voices of hypocrisy.
“To many, they see Cambodia as the success story of a devastated country, burned to the ground by war and genocide, that has risen from the ashes, is reconciled among its own people and has achieved enormous socio-economic transformations."
“Unfortunately to a few others, they only want to see my country’s shortcomings through the values of a perfect democracy – an exemplary democracy, I may say – that even their own countries couldn’t hope to achieve,” Sokhonn told the 40th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Switzerland.
Sokhonn, who is also deputy prime minister, continued that the Cambodian people had endured a tragic past under the Khmer Rouge.
But when the genocidal regime collapsed, the traumatised and exhausted survivors then had sanctions imposed on them for 12 years by the majority of UN member states while their Khmer Rouge “executioners” occupied the Kingdom’s seat at the UN.
He said it was the countries that preached democracy and human rights that were the ones to deprive the survivors of access to food, health, education, housing and development, and even peace.
Sokhonn raised examples of the successes Cambodia had since achieved, such as being the sixth fastest-growing economy in the world, seeing poverty rates reduced to less than 10 per cent, while primary school enrolment was at 98 per cent and life expectancy had risen from 54 years in 1993 to 69 in 2016.
He said Cambodia had achieved UN Millennium Development Goals ahead of schedule, and the Kingdom had deployed nearly 6,000 troops on UN peacekeeping missions to eight countries in Africa and the Middle East since 2006.
“Unfortunately, all these achievements and many more have hardly been reflected in the various reports submitted to this Council and, as a result, criticisms quite prejudicial of our government continue unabated on the basis of partial and biased information,” he said.
He added that reports were based only on the political opposition and some local and foreign NGOs which had their own agenda.
Sokhonn hit out at reports that ignored the unsavoury practices of part of the political opposition, such as the defamation and serious slandering of the Kingdom’s leaders, systematic appeals to racial hatred and xenophobia, the production of false documents, provocations endangering relations with a neighbouring state, the delegitimisation of institutions and repeated calls for the armed forces to rise up in rebellion.
He said all these acts had the compounding effect of creating a constant atmosphere of civil war.
Sokhonn defended the Supreme Court’s ruling to dissolve an unnamed opposition party, saying it was the same decision as “rendered by Western jurisdictions”.
“When the leader of an opposition party publicly declares that he and his party have received financial and technical support from a foreign power to overthrow, through illegal means, a legitimately and democratically elected government, we have no choice but to take the necessary steps to protect our country’s institutions, peace and stability."
“Serious violations of laws identical to those found in Western countries are not even mentioned. I can cite violations of the ban on foreign financing of political parties, violation of the law on associations [and the] refusal to comply with our codes, the provision of which were drafted with the assistance of Western academics.
“Without fail, these reports referred to our court decisions as ‘politically motivated’, whereas they are the same as those rendered by Western jurisdictions, based on similar facts and in similar circumstances,” he stressed.
Sokhonn said that after having taken protective measures, Cambodia was ready to negotiate with those who supported a peaceful democracy – “the true opposition” – to find ways to reconcile democracy with political stability, political pluralism and public peace.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said Sokhonn had endeavoured to paint of rosier picture of the human situation in Cambodia to discredit observers’ gloomier reports.
“It is doubtful whether his audience was very much convinced when normally actions speak louder than words,” he said.
Kin Phea, the director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said he had seen that the government had acted to improve human rights and democracy for the sake of peace and stability in Cambodia.
But he accepted that there were still some areas to be improved, especially social justice.
“If we talk frankly about the election process, we have to accept that the Cambodian People’s Party [CPP] has a greater advantage in using public power for the party’s benefit."
“However, there were still abuses of power happening,” he said, adding that these areas should be improved on to ensure the people’s acceptance of [the CPP] rule and to maintain peace.