Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Court denying UN Special Rapporteur access to​ Kem Sokha ‘hides rights violations’

Court denying UN Special Rapporteur access to​ Kem Sokha ‘hides rights violations’

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Rhona Smith, UN Special Reporter for Human Rights in Cambodia. Heng Chivoan

Court denying UN Special Rapporteur access to​ Kem Sokha ‘hides rights violations’

Officials from Phnom Penh Municipal Court and the Ministry of Justice defended the decision to reject a request from the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia to meet opposition figure Kem Sokha during her visit to the Kingdom.

“My request to meet with Mr Kem Sokha was denied by the investigating judge,” Rhona Smith replied when asked by The Post on Tuesday whether she had made a request to visit the former president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), who is currently residing at home under strict bail conditions.

A court spokesman on Tuesday confirmed that Investigating Judge Ky Rithy had rejected Smith’s request because Sokha’s treason case is still pending, while a CNRP lawmaker said the refusal was “clearly to conceal human rights violations” in the Kingdom.

Ey Rin, a Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman, on Tuesday confirmed that Judge Rithy had rejected Smith’s request.

“The investigating judge decided to reject the request and the court does not permit [Smith] to meet Kem Sokha because procedures are ongoing and at the investigation stage,” Rin said.

Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said the court’s decision had “clear basis” as Sokha’s freedom has been restricted by law.

“Kem Sokha has been freed on bail, but he is not free from the court’s procedures. His temporary release is under the court’s supervision, so the law has limited some of his rights and freedoms – where he can walk and the people he can meet, for example,” he said.

He continued that not allowing Sokha to meet foreigners helped the case, which is ongoing.

“[Judge Rithy] has a clear basis for prohibiting [Sokha] from going here or there, or meeting this or that person, as it is beneficial to the trial process,” he said.

However, former CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrath said on Tuesday that denying the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia permission to meet Sokha showed the intention to hide human rights violations in the Kingdom.

“I think it is not a good [decision] for the court as well as for the government. I believe that granting [Smith] permission to meet [Sokha] would reduce [tensions] by gaining the trust of a [high-ranking] UN official. When there is denial, it clearly shows the concealment of human rights violations,” he said.

Paul Chambers, regional political analyst and special adviser for international affairs at Thailand’s Naresuan University, said the UN has been highly critical of “the CPP’s growing stranglehold on the political power”.

“The denied request [from Smith] will make Cambodia’s government appear as testy tyranny to the international community.”

When asked if a negative report from Smith would influence the Cambodian government, Chambers replied: “Only if China begins to distance itself from Cambodia and [Prime Minister] Hun Sen feels that he increasingly needs the EU. But that is doubtful.”

Sokha was arrested in September last year and charged with “conspiring with a foreign power” based on Article 44 of the Criminal Code. He faces 15 to 30 years in prison if found guilty.

He was released on bail in September and put under court supervision, with observers saying his bail conditions are so strict they amount to “house arrest”.

During her 11-day visit to Cambodia, which began on Monday, Smith plans to meet senior government officials, civil society representatives and members of the diplomatic community.

She will conclude her trip with a press conference to discuss her “preliminary findings” next Thursday. She will present a report to the UNHCR in September next year.

Meanwhile, a government spokesman released a letter dated Tuesday that said: “In accordance with the government’s efforts and high attention [regarding] human rights, Samdech Techo Hun Sen, Prime Minister of Cambodia in the sixth mandate, signed a memorandum of understanding between the Cambodian government and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in order to implement technical cooperation on human rights issues in Cambodia.

“[It is] clearly understood that: Rhona Smith, UN Special Reporter for Human Rights in Cambodia, is the United Nations official in the technical work.

“She has obligations and duties to be a partner of the government in this field in order to get positive impacts without contravening Cambodian sovereignty.

“Besides prestigious work, the government of Cambodia, which is a member of United Nations, has the interests of Cambodians to . . . live in peace, harmony, stability and prosperity without any form of violation to the dignity of Cambodia.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Research key to Kanitha’s rep for expertise

    Sok Kanitha is used to weighing in on controversial issues using a confident approach that signals expertise and authority, and a recent video she made was no exception. Her “Episode 342: The History of NATO” video went live on January 16, 2023 and immediately shot to 30,000 likes and 3,500

  • Cambodia maintains 'Kun Khmer' stance despite Thailand’s boycott threat

    Cambodia has taken the position that it will use the term "Kun Khmer" to refer to the sport of kickboxing at the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, and has removed the term Muay from all references to the sport. Despite strong reactions from the Thai

  • Knockout! Kun Khmer replaces ‘Muay’ for Phnom Penh Games

    Cambodia has decided to officially remove the word Muay from the programme of the 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games 2023 in May. “Kun Khmer” will instead be used to represent the Southeast Asian sport of kickboxing, in accordance with the wishes of the Cambodian people. Vath

  • Artificial insemination takes herd from 7 to 700

    Some farms breed local cows or even import bulls from a broad for the purpose of breeding heavier livestock for meat production. One Tbong Khnum farmer has found a more efficient way. Hout Leang employs artificial insemination to fertilise local cows. Thanks to imported “straws”

  • New int’l airport nearly half complete as travel industry returns to life

    Construction of a new airport that is slated to serve the capital has passed the 43 per cent completion mark, raising prospects for a proper recovery in the civil aviation and tourism sectors as international travellers return to the Kingdom in increasingly large numbers. The figure

  • Chinese group tours return to Cambodia starting Feb 6

    Cambodia is among 20 countries selected by Beijing for a pilot programme allowing travel agencies to provide international group tours as well as flight and hotel packages to Chinese citizens, following a three-year ban. As the days tick down until the programme kicks off on February 6,