The Ministry of Women’s Affairs issued a February 20 statement reiterating that personal attacks and baseless insults against women are wrong under any circumstances, but that selective condemnation of such attacks for political reasons shows a lack of ethics.

“[We] urge all relevant civil society organisations (CSOs) and institutions to adhere to professional ethics and show neutrality in the performance of their work. They should avoid the use of double standards which are biased, discriminatory and serve their political interests, as such actions lower their value,” it said.

The statement supported earlier comments by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who questioned the sudden interest in women’s rights shown by nearly 40 CSOs. The organisations published an open letter to four ministries – women’s affairs; information; culture and fine Arts; and post and telecommunications – asking them to take action against news commentator Pheng Vannak, who is known for his “Pheng Vannak News” Facebook page, for insulting and belittling a female former anchor at the now-defunct media outlet VOD.

“She is a beautiful girl, but she has an ugly personality and dares to slander Hun Manet ... With such a cheap character, whoever marries you will be finished,” he wrote.

Hun Sen said he was not taking sides with Vannak, but wondered why the CSOs did not condemn self-exiled former opposition leader Sam Rainsy when he insulted his wife Bun Rany.

The premier said it appeared that the CSOs were more interested in opposing the government than protecting the dignity of women.

“I remember that while my family was grieving the loss of my sister-in-law, many insults were directed at us – some of them specifically at my wife, who was in mourning. These CSOs did not come out to support her. Why do you only protect women who support the opposition?” he asked rhetorically.

Chan Sotheavy, chairwoman the Ministry of Justice’s Gender Commission, noted that in the past a number of individuals had made personal attacks that violated the rights of many women, including several women in leadership roles.

“The Gender Commission does not support any speech or action that infringes on the honour, dignity and rights of any woman, with no discrimination or favour,” she said.

Sotheavy said that while the CSOs were right to criticise the comments made by Vannak, the double standards shown by them were a serious concern.

She added that their reactions demonstrated a form of discrimination against several other women who have been insulted, but not received the same support.

“The Gender Commission fully supports the prime minister, who made it clear that Cambodia must have a single standard for the protection of the rights of women from all walks of life, and must strongly oppose any act that discriminates against them,” she said.