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UN Human Rights Rapporteur to land in capital

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UN Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith speaks to the press last year in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

UN Human Rights Rapporteur to land in capital

The UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith, is to land in the Kingdom on Monday, in her first official visit since questioning the “genuineness” of the July 29 national elections, polls she claimed were “one-sided”.

During her 11-day visit, which is to conclude next Thursday, Smith is to meet senior government officials, representatives of civil society and members of the diplomatic community, said a statement from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Smith has regularly undertaken official missions to Cambodia since being appointed as UN Special Rapporteur in March 2015, and reports annually to the UNHRC.

At the 39th Session of the UNHRC in Geneva on September 26, Smith, besides criticising the July 29 Cambodia national elections, also called into question the Supreme Court’s dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue party (CNRP) and the jailing of its former president, Kem Sokha.

The Special Rapporteur also dismissed the Adhoc 5 case, saying their convictions “[appeared] to be nothing more than a politically motivated persecution of civil society”.

The Adhoc 5 were found guilty of bribing a witness in the case involving Sokha’s alleged affair with a hairdresser. They were handed down five-year suspended sentences.

She also raised the conviction on espionage charges of Australian filmmaker James Ricketson, who later received a royal pardon, and the ban on 118 former CNRP politicians.

Smith had urged the Cambodian government to improve its human rights record in order to achieve its UN Sustainable Development Goals.

“Peace without justice is unsustainable; development without freedom leaves people behind,” Smith said in a report submitted to the Geneva session in September.

Former opposition lawmaker Ou Chanrath on Sunday said Smith’s visit would bring “new pressure” on the government to “bring democracy back on track”.

“I believe the UNHRC official is coming to make a final conclusion on the situation of human rights and democracy in Cambodia, as it is an obligation of the UN. Therefore, I hope it puts additional pressure on the government."

“I believe that, perhaps, there will be some requests from the UN for the government to consider, such as bringing democracy back on track. [Her visit] is a good thing,” he said.

However, Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said on Sunday that the Kingdom is a sovereign state run to the “satisfaction” of its citizens, and as such no outside institution or person can interfere with or try to influence Cambodian law.

Cambodian satisfaction

“If someone were to ask whether Cambodia needs a foreign country to arrange new elections or [should] take any action on Cambodia, what I would tell them first is that Cambodia is a sovereign state and no one can interfere with the laws of Cambodia."

“Secondly, Cambodia is not a failed state because everything operates with regularity regarding the three independent state institutions – the legislative, the executive and the judiciary."

“The three independent institutions are operating effectively to the satisfaction of Cambodians,” he said.

Smith will conclude her visit with a press conference to discuss the “preliminary findings” of her visit next Thursday, November 8, at the OHCHR’s headquarters in Phnom Penh.

She will present her next report to the Council in September next year.

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