Cambodia's representative to the United Nations on Thursday refuted recent UN criticism of the Kingdom’s human rights situation, arguing that human rights concerns were simply a pretext to “stir instability”.
“One should not hide behind the human rights shade to stir instability for one’s own ill agenda”, said delegate Ney Sam Ol, arguing that freedom of expression is not absolute. “Human rights issues often become a tool for vilifying the government’s reputation.”
Last Wednesday, special rapporteur Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein criticised Cambodia by pointing to “arbitrary” pre-trial detentions and a biased court system.
Reached yesterday, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) country representative Wan-Hea Lee rejected the claim of having an “ill agenda”.
“Our only ‘agenda’ is to see respect and protection of human rights improve in Cambodia and around the world,” she said.
While some restrictions on freedom of expression were permissible, “they cannot be unlimited or arbitrary” and needed to abide by the law.
“The best way for a country to ensure it maintains a good reputation in human rights is to respect them,” she said.
Political analyst Ou Virak, meanwhile, said concerns should not be brushed away by “blaming the messenger”, but instead be debated in substance. “As a politician, you’re bound to be disliked by many people,” he said. “If you can’t embrace it, perhaps it’s not the right occupation for you.”
Though top politicians might may even agree “deep down” with human rights ideals, he added, “they just don’t want to lose the privilege that they have been enjoying for so long”.
But he also expressed frustration with human rights defenders. “They tend to think that everything that they believe is fundamental, and therefore there is no room for debate.”
Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said in an email that Prime Minister Hun Sen and the government had “over 30 years of experience in perfecting their model of intimidation, abusive laws enforced by crooked courts, political violence, and impunity that produces a constant litany of human rights violations”.
He added that the prime minister and the government “don’t have [a] substantive reply to the accusations brought against them”.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHHAY CHANNYDA