The Permanent Mission of Cambodia to the United Nations warned the UN not to interfere in the Kingdom’s internal affairs after the body’s human rights arm issued a statement welcoming the release of the so-called “Adhoc 5”, according to a statement made public early this morning.
The Adhoc 5 – four current staffers of the rights group, and one former staffer-turned-election official – were released on bail on June 29 after spending more than a year in pre-trial detention in a “bribery” case relating to an opposition sex scandal.
The case is widely seen as political, and in a July 7 statement, UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) spokeswoman Elizabeth Throssell said the body welcomed the release, while also expressing concern about a lack of evidence and legal reasoning to justify charges against the five.
In response, the Cambodian mission said in its own statement that it would “take note with appreciation” of the OHCHR’s statement, but “urge[d] the United Nations agents not to prejudice the independent functioning of the judiciary in the application of rule of law; as doing so is tantamount to [an] act of contempt of court”.
Cambodia’s UN Ambassador Ney Samol called Throssell’s statement “an act of contempt” because it was not based on facts.
“Cambodia is not immune to criticism . . . That’s why we allow the OHCHR into the country,” he said. “[But it] is not proper in a legal process, in any country, that someone . . . prejudices or alleges that a court has no legal, or strong legal, background.
“So let the process go on and let the judiciary fulfil their independent task,” he said.
The Cambodian government has locked horns with the OHCHR’s local branch before. The Foreign Ministry had threatened to eject the body from the country if it did not amend its memorandum of understanding with the government to include pointed language regarding noninterference.
Asked about yesterday’s statement, Throssell in an email said the OHCHR had nothing to add to its previous remarks.
The release from the Cambodian mission goes on to argue that “civil societies & NGOs have quite frequently distorted facts, embarked on lie[s], and exacerbated or dramatized some remote cases in order to undermine the legitimacy of [the] state’s institution including the judiciary”.
But Cambodian Center for Human Rights Executive Director Chak Sopheap in an email dismissed the permanent mission’s argument. “States cannot hide behind the well-worn excuse of ‘domestic affairs’ to evade scrutiny of their actions, and state sovereignty is never a justification for violations of human rights,” she said.
Sopheap pointed out that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared in November that the detention of the Adhoc 5 was “arbitrary” and that the detainees’ human rights had been violated.