Rhona Smith, the UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia, is to arrive in Phnom Penh on Monday to monitor the current situation in the Kingdom at the invitation of the government.
During an 11-day visit from April 29 to May 9, Smith is due to meet senior members of the government, representatives of civil society and members of the diplomatic community, the UNHRC said on Wednesday.
Smith will also visit various locations to gather information directly as she compiles a report on the human rights situation in Cambodia, which is to be presented to the council in Geneva in September.
“I will be focusing my mission on the current situation of human rights and will be following up on developments since my previous mission last November.
“I also aim to continue my examination of human rights with respect to the Sustainable Development Goals, looking in particular at non-discrimination and equality, and participation and accountability,” Smith said.
She will close her visit with a press conference at the Human Rights Council office in Phnom Penh to discuss the preliminary findings from her time in the Kingdom.
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said Smith was making one of her regular visits to the country, as she does two or three times a year, in which she focuses her attention on various issues regarding human rights in Cambodia.
He said Cambodia had endeavoured to build on past visits, address concerns and meet recommendations laid out in previous reports.
“Each visit always results in progress, and we make reports to her on the development of rights, freedom and democracy in Cambodia. She comes to assess the recommendations made for Cambodia, how Cambodia has implemented them and what challenges we are facing,” Malin said.
Malin added the government would report to Smith when she arrived on how Cambodia had implemented past recommendations made, as well as outline what goals would be enacted next.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said that Cambodia welcomed Smith’s visit as the Kingdom has good relations with the UNHRC and they were development partners in bolstering human rights in Cambodia.
“She will receive good cooperation in strengthening the human rights sector in Cambodia on her visit, but there is no closing of human rights in Cambodia,” he said.
Chak Sopheap, the executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), could not be reached for comment.
Smith had said after her previous visit to Cambodia concluded in November last year: “I encourage the government to create a more favourable environment for civil society to operate. This will be an important step in creating the space for free and informed debate around the pressing issues to promote Cambodia’s sustainable development and lasting peace.”
She also renewed calls for Kem Sokha, the president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, to be released from his treason charge, saying that keeping the former opposition leader on bail at his house in Phnom Penh under court-imposed conditions was a restriction of his rights.
Despite the good sentiment expressed before this most recent visit, there have been tensions between Smith and the Cambodian government in recent years.
In September last year, Siphan accused Smith of acting like a “teacher in a classroom” after she labelled the Kingdom a “de facto single party state” after the results of the general election saw the ruling Cambodian People’s Party win all 125 parliamentary seats.
“[Smith] regards Cambodia as a classroom and Cambodia’s leaders as her students. She should evaluate Cambodia based on the realities – where the Kingdom started its journey and where it is now,” he said.