Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - International pressure ramps up as joint statement delivered in Geneva



International pressure ramps up as joint statement delivered in Geneva

Keith Harper (centre) speaks to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva yesterday where he delivered a joint statement, raising concerns over Cambodia’s political situation. UN Media
Keith Harper (centre) speaks to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva yesterday where he delivered a joint statement, raising concerns over Cambodia’s political situation. UN Media

International pressure ramps up as joint statement delivered in Geneva

Thirty-nine countries yesterday issued a joint statement expressing “deep concern” at the escalation of political tensions in Cambodia, but as military hardliners continued to back the prime minister’s pledged crackdown on the opposition, observers were quick to demand more concrete action by the international community.

Delivered by US Ambassador to the United Nations Keith Harper to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the statement, endorsed by countries including the US, Australia and all 28 European Union members, called for immediate de-escalation.

“We are deeply concerned about the current escalation of political tensions in Cambodia, which threatens legitimate activities by opposition parties and human rights NGOs,” Harper read.

“There is particular concern about the appearance that legal action is being disproportionately pursued against critics of the government.”

The statement, which also urges Cambodia to renew its lapsed memorandum of understanding with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, comes a day after the US House of Representatives passed a motion slamming legal “harassment” of political opponents in the Kingdom.

However, the government which has denied cases against opposition politicians, civil society workers and an election official are politically motivated – yesterday showed no sign of softening its position.

Addressing the UN council in Switzerland, Cambodia’s Ambassador to the UN Ney Samol said the country did not welcome interference in its internal affairs.

At home, meanwhile, yet more Royal Cambodian Armed Forces generals ratcheted up their rhetoric, pledging they were ready to crack down on a “mass demonstration” promised by the CNRP in response to the raft of litigation.

RCAF Special Region commander Lieutenant General Prum Din said his men would “get rid of all activists who attempt to destroy stability”, and would “confront” the CNRP’s rally.

RCAF’s infantry headquarters released a similar statement, saying that it would stop the “illegal” protests “no matter the cost”.

Commander of the elite Brigade 70, Lieutenant General Mao Sophan; artillery unit chief Lieutenant General Nob Ratana; commander of Intervention Division 3 Lieutenant General Srey Doek; and Region 5 commander Lieutenant General Bun Seng all separately released statements along the same lines.

Seng, also an RCAF deputy commander in chief, oversaw live-fire exercises near his unit’s headquarters in Battambang yesterday, according to photos on the unit’s website, while fellow RCAF deputy commander-in-chief General Eth Sarath attacked the CNRP during a speech to more than a hundred soldiers at the Defence Ministry, according to local media outlet Fresh News.

The statements follow a warning by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday that he would “absolutely not” allow any protests, after which truckloads of armed members of his personal bodyguard unit descended on the street outside the CNRP’s headquarters.

However, despite the aggressive rhetoric, a CNRP lawmaker yesterday suggested the fact that Bodyguard Unit troops did not return on Tuesday night, as was threatened by their commander Hing Bun Heang, may signal a slight “retreat” by the CPP’s hardliners.

“Why are they so scared of mass protests? Because they are not stable within their group,” said the lawmaker, who requested anonymity.

Speaking at CNRP headquarters yesterday, senior lawmaker Son Chhay said a date for protests had not been set, but warned supporters would take to the streets if deputy president Kem Sokha were arrested.

Sokha – sentenced to five months in prison on Friday for refusing to appear as a witness in a prostitution case against him centred on an alleged affair with a hairdresser – has now spent almost four months inside party headquarters to avoid arrest.

Amid the growing tension, human rights organisations said UN agencies and embassies needed to follow the statement with actions.

International Federation for Human Rights representative to the UN Nicolas Agostini urged states to use “leverage” and demand the release of imprisoned human rights workers.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Right Watch’s Asia division, said the political crisis warrants an emergency response, saying envoys in Phnom Penh were not pulling their weight.

“We need to see these embassies to bring these human rights concerns into the offices of the highest level officials,” Robertson said.

However, embassies in Phnom Penh yesterday offered few details of their plans to lobby the government.

“Besides the [UN] statement, we’ve been calling on both sides to engage in dialogue,” said Mathilde Teruya, spokeswoman for the French Embassy. “The Australian Embassy is closely monitoring the political situation in Cambodia,” an embassy spokesperson added.

George Edgar, European Union ambassador to Cambodia, met with Sokha on Tuesday, but said the EU has no imminent plans to release its own statement on Cambodia’s political atmosphere.

“We are meeting with politicians, including members of the opposition,” Edgar said.

Additional reporting by Meas Sokchea and Shaun Turton

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Hun Sen: Stay where you are, or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the two-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Kandal provincial town Takmao could be extended if people are not cooperative by staying home. “Now let me make this clear: stay in your home, village, and district and remain where

  • Businesses in capital told to get travel permit amid lockdown through One Window Service

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration has issued guidelines on how to get travel permission for priority groups during the lockdown of Phnom Penh, directing private institutions to apply through the municipality's One Window Service and limit their staff to a mere two per cent. In

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Ministry names types of business permitted amid lockdown

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training singled out 11 types of business that are permitted to operate during the lockdown of Phnom Penh and Takmao town, which run through April 28. Those include (1) food-processing enterprises and slaughterhouses; (2) providers of public services such as firefighting, utility and