The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights yesterday urged the Cambodian government to guarantee all political and civil rights ahead of next year’s election, while the government’s Human Rights Committee dismissed allegations of wrongdoing.
During the 36th regular session of the Human Rights Council, UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said he was “seriously concerned at the recent arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha, which appears to have been undertaken without respect for due process guarantees or his parliamentary immunity”.
Sokha was arrested earlier this month and faces up to 30 years in prison on charges of treason.
Al Hussein also said that “numerous public statements” by Prime Minister Hun Sen and other high-ranking officials about the opposition leader’s alleged guilt seemed to “violate the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial”, adding the arrest came shortly after the closure of US-based NGO National Democratic Institute, the shuttering of the Cambodia Daily, and the revocation of licences of numerous radio stations.
But Cambodian Human Rights Committee President Keo Remy stressed the importance of economic development through stability.
“Unfortunately, political manipulation has been persistently conducted against the Royal Government,” he said. “Without peace and stability . . . human rights are only paper left on a bookshelf collecting dust.”
Any connection to the upcoming elections, Remy said, was “unfair”.
Prior to the session, a conglomeration of civil society organisations urged governments within the UN to support a Human Rights Council resolution to address the “human rights crisis” and the “escalating crackdown”, which they say takes place in the context of a “marked deterioration in the civil society and political rights environment over the past two years”.
According to the NGOs, including Human Rights Watch and International Commission of Jurists, this deterioration led to the closure of independent media outlets and Sokha’s arrest.
They then list a number of human rights breaches that occurred in the Kingdom over the past two years, including the beating of two opposition parliamentarians in October 2015 by Hun Sen’s Bodyguard Unit; court cases against opposition members; and the detention of the Adhoc 5, who were released in June after a year in prison in a case that is widely seen as political.
The group also points to the assassination of analyst Kem Ley and expressed concern about references to “colour revolutions” as well as the depiction of Sokha’s activities as “treason”.
But Remy yesterday said the concerns were illegitimate. He said the arrest of the opposition leader was justified.
“Some foreign entities have nurtured hostile policies against the Cambodian government,” he said, explaining that this contributed to a so-called colour revolution.
Another group of Cambodian NGOs including election watchdog Comfrel, rights group Adhoc and labour rights organisation Central, also released a statement yesterday stating they were “deeply disturbed” about the decision to prosecute political party leaders and curtail free press.
They urged the government to “restore a regular and peaceful political environment and allow for the participation of political party leaders, independent media and international nongovernment organizations during the registration period”.