Shrinking political and civic space in the Kingdom is highlighted in a new report from the United Nations’ human rights commissioner and secretary-general ahead of a UN Human Rights Council discussion this month on Cambodia.
The report, signed on February 2 and published on Monday, covers a reporting period by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia from the start of July 2017 until the end of the year.
“The reporting period witnessed a continued escalation in political tensions and curtailment of civic space,” they write.
This escalation, they write, included the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha in September and the dissolution of his Cambodia National Rescue Party, as well as the the intimidation of other politicians and civil society members.
“Some former members of the Cambodia National Rescue Party informed OHCHR that they were being intimidated by the police, with some threatened with arrest,” the report reads. “OHCHR has received a greater number of reports of intimidation of civil society organisations, and resulting fear among their staff.”
Cambodia is scheduled as the topic of a session at the Human Rights Council on March 21, where the report will be presented.
During a segment last week at the Human Rights Council, Japan’s Parliamentary Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Manabu Horii also briefly addressed the situation in the Kingdom.
“In Cambodia, it is vital to conduct general elections this July in a way that appropriately reflects the will of the people,” he said. “Japan will watch the situation with great interest and continue to reach out to the Cambodian government, as necessary. Going forward, Japan will consistently strive to establish fundamental values, such as human rights, and the rule of law, in the region.”
Japan has continued to provide election funding for the national ballot, even after the European Union and United States have pulled their assistance.
During the same meeting, the United Kingdom’s Tariq Ahmad, the minister of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, warned Southeast Asia’s economic growth “could be put at risk if political and civil space is eroded”, pointing to the dissolution of the CNRP and other regional developments.
“We hope that Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia will enable free discussion and open political debate in the run-up to their elections, which will demonstrate that democracy in the region is alive and well,” he said.
Council of Ministers spokesperson Phay Siphan dismissed the concerns, however, saying that “the Cambodian part has enough proof to explain [the arrest of Sokha] and the dissolution” of the CNRP.
He directed further questions to Keo Remy of the government’s Cambodian Human Rights Committee, who did not comment as of press time.