Cambodia’s ambassador to the United Nations has attacked a human rights report by the organisation that highlighted the Kingdom’s intensified political friction, including the forced dissolution of its main opposition party and the shrinking of individual freedoms.
The report by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, published this week, noted an “escalation in political tensions and curtailment of civic space”, as well as reports of police intimidation of opposition supporters and civil society organisations.
Yesterday, during the 37th Human Rights Council session, Ney Sam Ol, Cambodia’s ambassador and a permanent representative of Cambodia to the UN, said Human Rights High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein failed to recognise “tremendous outcomes in relation to the promotion and protection of human rights in this country”.
“Worse than that, premising on unverified or incredible sources, the High Commissioner insubstantially alleged that some measures taken purely to maintain law and order, to uphold peace, stability and development by legitimate authorities including the necessary amendment of some laws are curtailing freedom of expression and shrinking political space,” he said in a statement posted to Facebook.
Sam Ol said Cambodia was required to enforce the law and that rights were “not absolute”. “[L]et us make no mistake, being human rights defenders, political actors, or journalists do not mean they are immune from prosecution,” he said.
“Is a political rhetoric full of incitement, hatred, discrimination, and call for rebellion against legitimately elected government entitled the right to freedom of opinion and expression? I see not, and so too don’t you.”
The comments came as Cambodia experienced the most severe political crackdown in recent memory, with politicians, human rights defenders, environmentalists and journalists jailed on charges widely described as politically motivated.
The opposition CNRP was forcibly dissolved in November, just months from the July 2018 national election.
In the report's defence, Cambodian Center for Human Right Executive Director Chak Sopheap noted the role of rights groups, including the UN office on human rights, was to highlight areas for improvement and they did so “independently, impartially, and objectively, no matter the party in power”.
“Any legitimate critic of public actions and policies should be seen as they are – an attempt to improve the situation of all Cambodians in the country – rather than being dismissed as having underlying political motives,” she said in an email.
She said the law was indeed designed to be implemented indiscriminately, but too often it was used to target analysts, trade union members and human rights defenders.
“It is deeply regrettable that the right to be treated equally before the law is not consistently respected in Cambodia,” she said.
There was also a “critical lack of accountability” in investigating certain crimes involving authorities, such as violence against peaceful protesters.
“Without a justice which is applied objectively, impartially and fairly, people lose faith in the judicial system and opt out of seeking redress for human rights violations, creating a vicious circle of impunity, itself leading to more human rights violations,” she said.