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Geneva Mission defends arrests at NagaWorld protests

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An Sokkhoeurn, Cambodian ambassador and permanent representative to the UN in Geneva. Cambodia’s UN Office in Geneva

Geneva Mission defends arrests at NagaWorld protests

The Cambodian Permanent Mission to the UN Office in Geneva on January 6 responded to concerns expressed by four special rapporteurs on the arrests of former employees of the integrated resort NagaWorld who had been protesting for nearly 20 days.

Ambassador An Sokkhoeurn said in a statement that the rapporteurs had put out an “irresponsible and misleading statement”, based on what he called “one-sided and unverified accounts” of the “unlawful protests”.

“The steps taken by the Cambodian authorities are legitimate and proportionate.”

On January 5, four UN special rapporteurs issued a joint statement suggesting that the arrest and detention of at least 29 casino union leaders and activists during the strike may “amount to a breach of human rights law”.

These were the special rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in Cambodia Vitit Muntarbhorn; promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan; rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Clement Nyaletsossi Voule; and situation of human rights defenders Mary Lawlor.

“Many of the arrests of the mostly women strikers were conducted in a violent way and appear to contravene the freedoms of association, assembly and expression.

“We also strongly condemn the manner in which the first arrests took place, after dark on a day where multiple other events diverted public attention.

“This could be seen as an underhanded way to clamp down on fundamental human rights and impinge on the free exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association,” they said.

They also urged the government to explain the police response, and underlined that they were closely following developments.

However, Sokkhoeurn said the rapporteurs neglected to mention the “core requirements” for a legal strike, pointing out that Phnom Penh Municipal Court had ruled the protests illegal on December 16.

“Prior to the law enforcement, the authorities concerned have repeatedly called on the striking employees to return to peaceful negotiations in good faith and to cease their week-long unlawful protests, which threaten security, public order and safety.

“The charges, made on the basis of concrete and sufficient evidence, including confession of some protesters and financial sources from certain foreign actors, are in line with articles 494 and 495 of Cambodia’s penal code, crafted with the help of Western experts,” he said, without disclosing any names or nationalities.

He further said the rapporteurs failed to highlight that the exercise of the freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly entails special duties, responsibilities and limitations prescribed by legislation, as enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

“Law enforcement is imperative to shield law-abiding citizens and to prevent repetition of Cambodia’s tragic past and recent tragedies in some countries as a result of foreign interference in the internal affairs under the pretext of human rights and democracy,” Sokkhoeurn added.

“The purported human rights experts, being not the UN staff but serving in their individual capacity, always feel that things should have been acted differently based on their rights theory.

“But, will they take liability if their experiment fails?”

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