Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday claimed that Cambodia received an exceedingly positive review during a yearly assessment with United Nations representatives, even as the UN published a statement slamming recent legal amendments.
Hun Sen took to Facebook after the roughly six-hour meeting to declare that UN Resident Representative Claire Van der Vaeren praised his government, with both parties “highly evaluating” the other.
“Claire Van der Vaeren thanks the Cambodian government for its continued participation in the mission under the UN’s umbrella,” reads the post, adding that the UN representative also lauded the government’s “deep reforms”.
“She informed Prime Minister Hun Sen that the UN will continue to support Cambodia and enhance the partnership with Cambodia,” the premier’s statement continued.
Hun Sen’s government has come under heavy fire from the international community recently for a political crackdown that some have equated to the dismantling of democracy.
In September, the president of the country’s only viable opposition party was arrested on widely decried charges of “treason”, with his party summarily dissolved two months later. Meanwhile, NGOs have found themselves under heightened government scrutiny, and numerous independent media outlets have been shuttered.
Hun Sen claimed Van der Vaeren particularly praised Cambodia’s progress in human resources development, the environment, agriculture and demining.
The premier’s spokesman, Eang Sophalleth, echoed his statements in an interview, saying Van der Vaeren “congratulated” the Cambodian government for its reforms in education, health and social welfare.“She said it is a strong base for developing our country,” he added.
Sophalleth maintained Van der Vaeren did not express any concern about the political situation.
Van der Vaeren and representatives of the UN Development Programme did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.
But despite Hun Sen’s rosy assessment, the UN in Geneva yesterday released a statement condemning recent controversial amendments to the country’s Constitution and Criminal Code passed last week by the National Assembly. The constitutional amendments place new restrictions on certain political rights, and Criminal Code amendments included a lèse majesté law criminalising insults to the King.
The laws “would impose far-reaching limits on democracy” and “raise serious risk of violating human rights law”, according to the UN statement.
In the statement, Rhona Smith, special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, is jointly quoted with David Kaye, special rapporteur for free speech, as saying, “Lese majeste provisions are incompatible with Cambodia’s obligations under international human rights law.”
The statement also criticised the “broad terminology” of the constitutional amendments, which contain vague requirements, such as demanding that political parties “uphold the national interest”.
The special rapporteurs called for a “rigorous” reassessment that includes public consultation.
“Ms Smith has communicated her views in detail to the Cambodian government,” the release added.
The amendments will go before the Senate today, where the ruling party has more than enough representatives to pass them.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday questioned the validity of international law.
Claiming the lèse majesté law was “compatible” with similar laws in Thailand – which have themselves been frequently criticised – Siphan said Cambodia has “the right” to regulate speech.
“Cambodia believes in the King,” he said.
When asked about the vagueness of the other amendments, Siphan gave a correspondingly vague answer.
“According to the principle of the Constitution, we are independent,” he said.