UN Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith met with Cambodian human rights representative Keo Remy yesterday in a seemingly contentious meeting, where both sides expressed diverging views on the country’s recent human rights record.
Smith is on a 10-day visit to the country, and on her second day of meetings sat down with Remy, who heads the government’s Cambodian Human Rights Committee, to discuss major legislative changes passed last year as part of the government’s crackdown on the opposition.
Smith said she discussed a wide range of human rights issues with her Cambodian counterpart, and while she did not specifically bring up the November forced dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, she raised the disenfranchisement of their roughly 3 million supporters.
“I didn’t talk about the dissolution of the CNRP yet but did discuss the rights to political participation in Cambodia and for the views of the people who vote in elections to be respected and recognised,” she said as she left the meeting.
Like with her meeting with Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana on Tuesday, Smith again reiterated that Cambodian laws, especially those that are used to restrict freedom of expression, needed to comply with international human rights standards.
Smith’s meeting comes amid one of the harshest crackdowns in recent memory on the opposition, civil society and independent media organisations, one that has seen opposition leader Kem Sokha jailed for “treason”, his party forced to disband and all of its elected positions handed to other parties. The dissolution of the CNRP and redistribution of its seats were facilitated by rushed amendments to the political party and electoral laws.
However, Remy took umbrage with Rhona’s classification of recent events as a “rule by law” rather than the enforcement of the rule of law. Remy rebutted by saying the government was enforcing the law for all Cambodian people, but that human rights observers find a reason to complain.
He insisted more recent legal amendments that outlaw insulting the King and curb political participation were no different from those implemented in other countries. “She said don’t do things by just following others, but we just wanted to show her that nothing is strange,” he said.
While praising Smith for drafting reports that showed the positives and negatives of the government’s record, Remy said she was only focused on human rights and not the implementation of Cambodian laws.
“She wrongly understands the government, but one day she will understand rightly, and she will see that the government has done right,” he said.
Smith also met with Supreme Court Deputy President You Ottara and raised the issue of judicial independence and the Supreme Court’s role in dissolving the CNRP in November. The court, which is stacked with members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, held a nine-hour hearing last year deciding to disband the party and ban 118 of its senior officials from politics.
Ottara and court spokesman Nou Mony Choth could not be reached yesterday.
As Smith was meeting Ottara, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, addressed the Human Rights Council in Geneva, raising concerns about the Kingdom’s “moves to repress dissent and close political and civil society space”.
“Since this council last met, the Supreme Court has dissolved the principal opposition party, disenfranchising opposition voters,” he said. “Recently adopted amendments to the Constitution and Criminal Code are likely to further erode political rights and fundamental freedoms.”