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UN envoy blasts gov’t in new report

Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Rhona Smith speaks at a press conference at the UN offices in Phnom Penh this year.
Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Rhona Smith speaks at a press conference at the UN offices in Phnom Penh this year. Pha Lina

UN envoy blasts gov’t in new report

An advance release of UN Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith’s upcoming report to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) gives the government poor marks on a raft of social and political issues, prompting a government spokesman last night to declare that the former professor “doesn’t deserve to work in Cambodia”.

The report, obtained last night, touches on everything from democratic safeguards to the treatment of indigenous peoples, and is near-universally critical, arriving at the conclusion that recent developments “suggest that the law is increasingly being used to restrict the democratic space in the country”.

Smith’s report is due to be delivered to the HRC in Geneva on September 28. The rapporteur – who was derided just two months ago by human rights observers for being perceived as having a cosy relationship with the government – reserved her most incendiary remarks for the Kingdom’s current political situation.

Citing “a raft of arrests, detentions, charges and convictions against members of political parties and civil society”, the report paid special attention to the use of the judiciary, which she said, gives “the impression of restrictions applied in furtherance of political objectives”.

Several opposition and civil society members have been besieged by court cases widely considered to be politically motivated. CNRP president Sam Rainsy is in self-imposed exile to avoid jail, and his deputy Kem Sokha remains holed up in party headquarters to avoid arrest after being convicted last week for failing to honour court summonses.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan, however, responded to Smith’s assertion by arguing that Sokha had defied a court order, and that he and NGO staffers arrested after being caught up in his alleged sex scandal are obliged to face the charges against them in front of a judge.

“The law has been approved by the National Assembly and so [has] nothing to do with the government,” Siphan said. “The house of representatives represented the will of the people as a majority. The law depends on the culture of each country.”

In her report, Smith also mourned the loss of Cambodians’ constitutionally protected freedom of expression.

“It was, until recently, a characteristic of Cambodian society, contributing to open debate and discussion,” she wrote, noting that “an ever wider range of laws are being used to impose restrictions”.

Siphan, however, maintained that free expression remains protected under the law, “but they have to comply and cooperate with the local authorities”.

The special rapporteur also weighed in on the ongoing voter registration process, recommending that mechanisms be put in place to ensure migrant workers, along with other transient persons, are registered.

Siphan, however, countered that Smith was “not our boss, our church – we have to comply with the election law from the National Assembly”.

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