The 10th Japan-Kingdom of Cambodia Human Rights Dialogue was held in Phnom Penh on Tuesday at the office of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC).
CHRC President Keo Remy said after the meeting that he and the Japanese team – led by Masato Otaka, Ambassador in charge of UN Affairs and Deputy Assistant Minister of the Foreign Policy Bureau at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs – discussed human rights issues in the Kingdom.
Remy said Otaka raised concerns with regards to the Supreme Court’s 2017 dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the ongoing house-arrest of CNRP President Kem Sokha on charges of treason, and the 2016 murder of political analyst Kem Ley.
Remy said he responded to Otaka’s concerns by stating that each case was handled under Cambodian law.
He said he told Otaka that Cambodia was committed to protecting the peace, security, stability and political and social order as the country attempted to move into upper-middle-income country status by 2030.
“Otaka raised the dissolution of the CNRP, Kem Sokha, Kem Ley, freedom of expression and the assembly of civil society groups. We told him the reasons for each action in reference to legal enforcement by the court,” Remy said.
He continued that he appreciated Japan’s reporting on the Kingdom’s human rights situation, saying it was “balanced” and “reflected the truth about Cambodia”.
“I told Otaka that Japan should support the good actions that Cambodia has taken. We accepted that we still have some points to improve on, and we will try better,” he said
The Japanese Embassy in Phnom Penh on Tuesday issued a press release saying both countries had exchanged views on human rights issues, including freedom of political activity, expression, assembly and association, as well as judicial independence.
The statement also said the two countries had fruitful discussions on Japan’s capacity building and development assistance to Cambodia.
Ou Chanrath, a former CNRP lawmaker, said it was not only Japan that had raised concerns about
the human rights situation in Cambodia, but other countries too.
“The issues they raised were to make Cambodia think twice, but we have seen that the government did not accept their recommendations. Instead, it rejected the concerns and claimed that it was legal enforcement in Cambodia.
“There is nothing that can’t be solved. If we keep pushing our country deeper [into rights abuses], it will affect the economy,” he said.
Chanrath said even though Japan had shown restraint in its criticism, it did not mean that the issues were of any less importance.
He said it was right for politicians to soften their stance towards each other to solve problems, rather than ask for help from the outside.
Chak Sopheap, the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) director, said she welcomed Japan’s interest and enthusiasm in raising human rights issues with the government.
But she said the process could be further improved with a more transparent and participatory approach, including more regular dialogues with human rights communities.
She said Japan, as one of the signatories to the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements and a facilitator of a 2018 UN Human Rights Council resolution on Cambodia, should further assist to bring about greater respect for human rights in the Kingdom.
“Japan must go beyond providing infrastructure and human resources support, to actively advocate for an end to human rights violations in Cambodia,” she said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said the Japanese delegation would now have a better understanding of Cambodian laws and whether they adhered to international norms and standards.
He said this knowledge would help Japan develop an appropriate approach to help normalise ongoing difficult relations between Cambodia, the EU and the US over what the West regards as a deterioration of human rights in Cambodia.
“The timing [of this meeting] is not altogether inappropriate when the EU and the US have respectively appointed their new ambassadors to Cambodia, and the issue of the alleged Chinese military installation being allowed to be built on Cambodia’s territory has sucked Cambodia into the quagmire of the Sino-American conflict,” he said.