The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights yesterday decried the increasingly tense political situation in Cambodia in a wide-ranging statement that encompassed a number of human rights issues around the globe.
In a statement released on International Women’s Day and addressed to the Human Rights Council, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that recently passed amendments to Cambodia’s Law on Political Parties “fall far below human rights standards for freedom of association”.
The controversial new amendments give the Supreme Court the power to dissolve any party with people in leadership positions that hold criminal convictions, a move widely interpreted as directly targeting the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.
The statement goes on to reiterate the UN’s contention that the pre-trial detention of Adhoc human rights defenders was “arbitrary”. Four current and one former Adhoc official were arrested mid-last year over charges of “bribery” tied to a sex scandal around CNRP president Kem Sokha.
Al Hussein said that “credible elections must be grounded in guarantees that courts will be independent and impartial”.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, however, called the statement “an act of aggression against Cambodian sovereignty” that represented an attempt to meddle in Cambodia’s internal affairs.
“It doesn’t help Cambodia at all. It’s biased,” he said.
The Law on Political Parties, he said, was “from Cambodian politicians who sit in the National Assembly” and therefore lawful. “The UN has no right to tell Cambodian people to do that or this.”
“International law is . . . [meant] as guidance. But we have no obligation to do what it educates. We are a sovereign nation.”
Siphan went on to say that Cambodia’s judiciary, routinely pilloried by observers as a tool of the executive, in fact served the people well. “Only judges have the right to decide wrong or right, not the UN,” he said, calling the Kingdom’s courts “very fair”.
But legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said the Adhoc officials’ pre-trial detention was indeed arbitrary. “[The defenders] are credible enough that they will attend the court whenever called,” he said, referring to a recent decision to deny them bail.
Turning to the judiciary to solve these conflicts, he said, was impossible, as it “is very weak”.
The biggest concern, though, was the “excessive use of force when cracking down on protests” by security guards, Sam Ouen said, for which “there’s no remedy mechanism”.
“The police cannot close their eyes. They have to look when security guards abuse their powers,” he said, suggesting that the government give training courses to security guards and police officers alike.
Naly Pilorge, deputy executive director of rights group Licadho, said she agreed with issues raised in the statement. “The space is now closing for any civil society groups or citizens who dare to debate and challenge government policies and decisions.”
Separately, Amnesty International yesterday named imprisoned land activist Tep Vanny one of “six distinguished women human rights activists who have faced harassment, threats, imprisonment, and violence for standing up for human rights” in Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Philippines, Vietnam and Myanmar.