Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Smith airs concerns with Sar Kheng



Smith airs concerns with Sar Kheng

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Sar Kheng greets UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith at the Ministry of Interior in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. Heng Chivoan

Smith airs concerns with Sar Kheng

At a two-hour meeting with Ministry of Interior officials on Wednesday, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith said she had raised various concerns.

These included restrictions on civil society, prison overcrowding and the recent relocation of more than 2,000 Vietnamese families in Kampong Chhnang.

Former opposition leader Kem Sokha was not discussed, Smith told reporters after the meeting.

Smith said: “We discussed many problems, most of them relevant to the Ministry of Interior, including openness for civil society. We discussed overcrowding in prisons, the development of laws on identification and nationality, and the anti-drugs campaign."

“We discussed many problems that the ministry is working on and problems [we] discussed before.​ No, we did not discuss Kem Sokha,” Smith said when asked.

“We were discussing other issues such as problems with pre-trial detention and looking at alternatives to custodial sentencing, and prison overcrowding,” she said.

Smith reiterated: “We discussed a wide range of issues [relating] to the work of the Ministry of Interior, including looking at opening up the civil society space, while also looking at the issues of prison overcrowding, progress on laws on identification and nationality, and looking at the anti-drugs campaign as well.

“So we looked at a wide range of issues regarding the work of the ministry, many of which we previously discussed.”

The ministry’s deputy spokesman Phat Sophanit said prison overcrowding and the relocation of the Vietnamese came as a consequence of other problems, which themselves were being tackled “according to the law” and “without human rights violations”.

He told The Post that Sar Kheng had informed Smith of the government’s move to create a forum with civil society organisations in which to discuss their concerns because, in the past, they had complained of restrictions to their freedom.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith attends a meting the Ministry of Interior on Wednesday. Heng Chivoan

The forum, he said, was aimed at solving such problems and strengthening the partnership between civil society and the government.

“Sar Kheng told Smith that to solve any problem, strengthen the partnership and work together for society, the government created a team to address concerns raised or comments made by civil society organisations relating to the execution of their duties."

“If they have problems, they can raise them or give comments to the team for discussion together,” Sophanit said.

Sophanit said Smith had expressed her appreciation for the Cambodian government’s initiative in strengthening the partnership with civil society organisations and NGOs with the creation of the forum in October.

He said Sar Kheng told Smith that drugs are a pressing issue for Cambodian society. Authorities make arrests, which lead to an increase in prisoner numbers and overcrowding in jails.

However, if the government did not tackle the drug problem, it would escalate and damage society, so it is a huge responsibility for the government.

“[So] to solve prison overcrowding, the government and Ministry of Interior have tried to construct more prison infrastructure in some provinces to share the burden of the prisons in Phnom Penh."

“If a prison is too crowded, we can send prisoners to another facility. [Prime Minister Hun Sen] said we should have a meeting to tackle the issue of the pre-trial detention of some prisoners,” Sophanit said.

On the relocation of the Vietnamese families from the Tonle Sap river, he said Smith expressed worry that it contravened human rights, but Sar Kheng told her it was the responsibility of the authorities to improve sanitation and protect the environment.

If the authorities did not take such action, he said, it would cause “serious” sanitation and environmental problems.

“As for human rights, [Sar Kheng] said what they have done in Kampong Chhnang was practised with high attention to human rights and without any violations or the confiscation of anything."

“Everything followed the law in maintaining order,” Sophanit said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Would you like fries with that? US burger chain makes Phnom Penh debut

    California-based The Habit Burger Grill restaurant chain is all set to serve up a delicious array of charbroiled burgers and sides at its newest international location in the centre of Phnom Penh. The Habit is “renowned for its award-winning Charburgers grilled over an open flame,

  • Phnom Penh underpass opens to ease traffic

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced a temporary opening of the 488m underpass at the Chaom Chao roundabout in Phnom Penh’s Por Sen Chey district, which was recently completed to connect traffic from National Road 4 to Russian Federation Blvd. The move is to reduce

  • ‘No chance Cambodia booted out of ASEAN’

    A group of former and current Cambodian diplomats on Tuesday fired back at retired Singaporean diplomat Bihalari Kausikan after he proposed that ASEAN dismiss Cambodia and Laos from the bloc. In an open letter, the Cambodian diplomats said Kausikan’s remarks were made from a

  • Banteay Meanchey flood victims receive aid

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday provided aid to more than 10,000 families affected by flooding in Banteay Meanchey province’s Mongkol Borei district and offered his condolences to the 18 victims who drowned in the province over the past week. He said flooding had occured in

  • Woman seeks answers after arrest of American partner

    Filipina Lalaine de Guzman, 48, is demanding answers for the detention of her American partner by Cambodian immigration officers after he was arrested at their home almost 90 days ago. She said without an arrest warrant or proffering any criminal charges, Stephen Sidney Greatsinger, 56, is being detained

  • PM urges caution as Polish man tests positive for Covid

    The Ministry of Health on Wednesday reported that a 47-year-old Polish man tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving in Cambodia on Monday. There are a total of six Covid-19 patients currently in the country, all of whom are being treated at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital