Cambodia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has requested that the Kingdom’s “competent authorities” stop legal action against United Nations staffer Soen Sally – one of several people charged with bribing the alleged mistress of Kem Sokha – declaring the human rights worker protected by UN immunity.
Contradicting a May 1 declaration by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who warned UN workers in Cambodia that they could not rely on their immunity for protection from arrest, the ministry has recommended the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN be obeyed, according to spokesman Chum Sounry.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has informed the competent authorities about the immunity of Mr Soen Sally and requested the Cambodian competent authorities to stop the legal procedure against Mr Soen Sally,” Sounry said.
“The ministry was tasked with the duty to study the international law and to check whether Mr Soun Sally enjoys immunity or not, and we have checked it with the office of the UN in Phnom Penh and after that we have the duty to inform the competent authorities about Mr Soen Sally’s immunity.”
Sally is among seven people so far charged as part of a heavily criticised investigation into an alleged affair by the CNRP acting president.
They allegedly bribed Sokha’s purported mistress to deny the affair, though critics say the scandal is being fed and used by the ruling party to crack down on the opposition party and critical elements of civil society with legally dubious charges.
Though he was summonsed to face Phnom Penh Municipal Court, the UN refused to submit Sally for questioning citing his immunity.
Four workers from rights group Adhoc and a senior election official who did show up to answer questions were detained and charged, alongside an opposition commune chief.
Yesterday, Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said he had yet to see the Foreign Ministry’s request, as did Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak.
Wan-Hea Lee, country representative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – for which Sally works – said they believed the matter settled.
“The response from MOFAIC was received late Thursday evening,” Lee said. “We understand it to mean that the arrest of our staff will not be pursued further. Our office is operating as usual.”