Minister of Interior Sar Kheng expressed hope that the newly appointed UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, will work closely with the government in fulfilling his mandate.
Muntarbhorn was appointed as the UN special rapporteur in March 2021 to replace Rhona Smith.
Sar Kheng and Muntarbhorn held their first talk on June 24 during which both sides discussed the general Covid-19 situation in Cambodia.
“At the start, Sar Kheng welcomed and applauded Muntarbhorn’s appointment as the UN special rapporteur. He hoped that – based on his experiences and knowledge – [Muntarbhorn] will make positive contributions and cooperate well with the government and interior ministry.
“[This is] to ease his mandate fulfilment as the special rapporteur as well as Cambodia’s fulfilment of its international duties on human rights effectively,” Sar Kheng said in his Facebook post.
Muntarbhorn told Sar Kheng that he had been to Cambodia many times as a researcher and hoped that as special rapporteur he could hold frank talks with the government and relevant stakeholders in order to solve common concerns in a constructive way.
Muntarbhorn brought up specific topics of concern for discussion with Sar Kheng, including Cambodia’s crowded prisons and detention centres, achieving more open space for democracy and civil society, the amendment on the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (LANGO), and the government’s post-pandemic emergency responses.
With regards to the measures the government put in place in response to the pandemic, Sar Kheng said the government had shown an abundance of caution by introducing preventive measures ranging from raising public awareness to lockdowns to vaccination campaigns. The government had also introduced social assistance programmes for people affected by Covid-19.
Regarding concerns about overcrowding at prisons, Sar Kheng said the ministry is making an effort to expand prison facilities to address the issue, especially given the context of Covid-19.
“The interior ministry is currently applying some other measures to ease conditions such as working with the Ministry of Justice on the possibility of early release or release on bail for detainees who have committed less-serious crimes or those who have almost served their entire sentences for lesser crimes, placing them under court supervised release,” Sar Kheng said.
He said the ministry had cooperated with the Ministry of Health to respond to any Covid-19 cases in the prisons by separating detainees, undergoing rapid testing and vaccinating prisoners with the AstraZeneca vaccines, marketed as CoviShield.
Responding to Muntarbhorn’s concerns about LANGO, Sar Kheng said the government sees NGOs as partners and encourages them and their representatives to continue working together with the government on an amendment request.
Muntarbhorn said he took note of what Sar Kheng told him as being valuable information on these topics and regarded what they discussed as the basis for future considerations regarding these matters.
Also on June 24, Muntarbhorn met via video conference with Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC) president Keo Remy to discuss similar topics.
“Both sides expressed their commitment to continue this cooperation and dialogue on human rights. CHRC president Keo Remy requested that the special rapporteur write a report for the CHRC and give his recommendations in a balanced manner that reflects the challenges and efforts of the government within the Cambodian context,” CHRC said in a press statement.