Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday called on United Nations special rapporteur Rhona Smith not to infringe on Cambodian sovereignty, as the pair met in Phnom Penh during Smith’s first official visit to the Kingdom.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting at the Peace Palace, Hun Sen’s spokesperson Eang Sophalleth said Smith had moved to reassure the prime minister on the issue.
“Her Excellency [Smith] informed [Hun Sen] that during her mandate she will work with the government to promote the protection of human rights without violating the sovereignty and integrity of the Cambodian government,” he said.
Smith’s office also confirmed the exchange yesterday by email.
“The issue was raised by the Prime Minister. The Special Rapporteur assured the Prime Minister that the role of the Special Rapporteur does not compromise the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Cambodia,” wrote assistant to the special rapporteur Olga Nakajo.
“According to the mandate, the role involves monitoring the situation of human rights in Cambodia and providing technical advice to the Royal Government in its efforts to protect and promote human rights for all in Cambodia,” Nakajo wrote.
However, Sophalleth explicitly acknowledged yesterday that there was often a “gap” between the government and the UN’s interpretations of the protection and promotion of human rights.
“Hun Sen told Smith during their meeting that human rights issues require understanding, and there are always different views from one case to another case in the proceedings of democracy and life,” he said.
One such case is the detention last month of three environmental activists with the NGO Mother Nature in Koh Kong province, who were involved in protests over a hydroelectric dam project and sand dredging.
According to her assistant, Smith yesterday visited Koh Kong and met with provincial authorities, though it was not reported whether she had visited the imprisoned activists.
Other cases mentioned in meetings with civil society include the recent conviction of members of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party on insurrection charges related to a July 2014 protest that turned violent in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park. In July, 11 protesters received sentences of up to 20 years despite little hard evidence being provided during their trial.
Civil society groups raised these cases and other issues with Smith during a meeting in Phnom Penh last Thursday. But some in attendance cast doubt over the prospect of her visit significantly impacting on the current situation.
“I think that her visit is just to survey the position of the government on the human rights situation,” said Ny Chakrya, head of the human rights section at rights group Adhoc.
Following her visit, Smith will submit a report that will be presented at the 30th session of the UN Human Rights Council later this month.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHARLES PARKINSON