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.”