UN Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith raised the forced dissolution of the CNRP and the redistribution of its legislative seats, as well as the government’s frequent legal action against sitting parliamentarians, during her visit on Tuesday with National Assembly President Heng Samrin.
The human rights envoy also met with the National Election Committee Chair Sik Bun Hok, calling on the electoral body to ensure free and fair elections this year, and adding that the possibility of a single-party parliament following the July vote would go against the country’s constitutional mandate to enshrine multi-party democracy.
Smith's visit comes months after the Cambodia National Rescue Party – the country’s only viable opposition – was dissolved in November by the Supreme Court and its elected positions divvied up among minor parties who claimed only a tiny fraction of the vote. The party’s president, Kem Sokha, has also been imprisoned since September on widely decried charges of “treason”.
Smith said she raised these issues, along with parliament’s use of the Constitution’s “in flagrante delicto” clause to allow criminal investigations of sitting opposition lawmakers, who are generally protected by parliamentary immunity.
The clause was invoked in the case of Sokha and former CNRP lawmaker Am Sam An, as well as opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour. The clause is meant to be used only if a parliamentarian is caught “red-handed” in the act of committing a crime.
“I raised . . . the in flagrante delicto clause and how it affects the removal of parliamentary immunity,” Smith said in brief comments following the meeting with Samrin.
However, Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Chheang Vun maintained the special rapporteur failed to understand the meaning of the clause, despite her expertise in human rights issues.
“She might not clearly understand, so I told her that I have explained this to her two years ago. But she still understands the meaning of ‘red-handed crime’ to be an immediate offence,” he said.
Declining to explain the government’s definition of such a crime, Vun only pointed to the convictions of Sam An and Sok Hour, who were both arrested over Facebook posts critical of the government’s handling of border issues with Vietnam. Sok Hour’s post included an inaccurate version of a controversial border treaty between Cambodia and its eastern neighbour.
“I raised an example that they altered the agreement of one country and posted the altered one on Facebook, so it is the red-handed case. Now she understands; previously she does not know,” he said.
He also dismissed concerns Smith raised over a slew of legislative amendments, hastily passed last year, which aided in the government’s crackdown on the CNRP, as well as concerns over more recent controversial amendments that included a law banning insults to the King and constitutional changes placing additional limits on political participation.
At the National Election Committee, Smith said she was updated about the Senate elections results – where the CPP swept all 58 elected positions – and noted that a repeat performance during the July National Assembly ballot would go against Cambodia’s constitutional obligations.
“I think if Cambodia ended up being a one-party system, that will be problematic in terms of the Constitution, which provides clearly for a multi-party liberal democracy as a basis of the Cambodian system,” she said as she left the premises.
In response, NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said the body conveyed its commitment to run a “free and fair” election, but that it had no control over the results. “No one can change the result, so NEC has the obligation to arrange the election. If there is only one single party in the Senate, it is the result that we received from the election,” Puthea said.