Smith airs con­cerns with Sar Kheng

The Phnom Penh Post - - FRONT PAGE - Mech Dara

AT A two-hour meet­ing with Min­istr y of In­te­rior of f icia ls on Wed­nes­day, UN Spe­cia l Rap­por­teur for Hu­man Rights in Ca mbo­dia R hona Smit h sa id she had ra ised va r ious con­cerns.

These in­cluded re­stric­tions on civ il so­ciet y, prison over­crowd­ing and the re­cent re­lo­cat ion of more t ha n 2,0 0 0 Viet­namese fam­i­lies in Kam­pong Chh­nang.

For­mer op­po­si­tion leader Kem Sokha was not dis­cussed, Smith told re­porters af­ter the meet­ing.

Smith said: “We dis­cussed many prob­lems, most of them rel­e­vant to the Min­istry of In­te­rior, in­clud­ing open­ness for civil so­ci­ety.

We dis­cussed over­crowd­ing in pris­ons, the de­vel­op­ment of laws on iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and na­tion­al­ity, and the anti-drugs cam­paign.

“We dis­cussed many prob- lems that the min­istry is work­ing on and prob­lems [we] dis­cussed be­fore.

“No, we did not dis­cuss Kem Sokha,” Smith said when asked.

“We were dis­cussing other is­sues such as prob­lems with pre-trial de­ten­tion and look­ing at al­ter­na­tives to cus­to­dial sen­tenc­ing, and prison over­crowd­ing,” she said.

Smith re­it­er­ated: “We dis­cussed a wide range of is­sues [re­lat­ing] to the work of the Min­istry of In­te­rior, in­clud­ing look­ing at open­ing up the civil so­ci­ety space, while also look­ing at the is­sues of prison over­crowd­ing, progress on laws on iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and na­tion­al­ity, and look­ing at the anti-drugs cam­paign as well.

“So we looked at a wide range of is­sues re­gard­ing the work of the min­istry, many of which we pre­vi­ously dis­cussed.”

The min­istry’s deputy spokesman Phat So­phanit said prison over­crowd­ing and the re­loca- tion of the Viet­namese came as a con­se­quence of other prob­lems, which them­selves were be­ing tack­led “ac­cord­ing to the law” and “with­out hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions”.

He told The Post t hat Sa r Kheng had in­formed Smith of t he gover n ment’s move to cre­ate a fo­rum with civ il so­ciet y or­gan­i­sa­tions in which to d i s c u s s t h e i r c o n c e r n s be­cause, in the past, they had

com­plained of re­stric­tions to their free­dom.

The fo­rum, he said, was aimed at solv­ing such prob­lems and strength­en­ing the part­ner­ship be­tween civil so­ci­ety and the gov­ern­ment.

“Sar Kheng told Smith that to solve any prob­lem, strengthen the part­ner­ship and work to­gether for so­ci­ety, the gov­ern­ment cre­ated a team to ad­dress con­cerns raised or com­ments made by civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions re­lat­ing to the ex­e­cu­tion of their du­ties.

“If they have prob­lems, they can raise them or give com­ments to the team for dis­cus­sion to­gether,” So­phanit said.

So­phanit said Smith had ex­pressed her ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the Cam­bo­dian gov­ern­ment’s ini­tia­tive in strength­en­ing the part­ner­ship with civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions and NGOs with the cre­ation of the fo­rum in Oc­to­ber.

He said Sar Kheng told Smith that drugs are a press­ing is­sue for Cam­bo­dian so­ci­ety. Au­thor­i­ties make ar­rests, which lead to an in­crease in pris­oner num­bers and over­crowd­ing in jails.

How­ever, if the gov­ern­ment did not tackle the drug prob­lem, it would es­ca­late and dam­age so­ci­ety, so it is a huge re­spon­si­bil­ity for the gov­ern­ment.

“[So] to solve prison over­crowd­ing, the gov­ern­ment and Min­istry of In­te­rior have tried to con­struct more prison in­fra­struc­ture in some prov­inces to share the bur­den of the pris­ons in Ph­nom Penh.

“If a prison is too crowded, we can send pris­on­ers to an­other fa­cil­ity. [Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen] said we should have a meet­ing to tackle the is­sue of the pre-trial de­ten­tion of some pris­on­ers,” So­phanit said.

On the re­lo­ca­tion of the Viet­namese fam­i­lies from the Tonle Sap river, he said Smith ex­pressed worry that it con­tra­vened hu­man rights, but Sar Kheng told her it was the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the au­thor­i­ties to im­prove san­i­ta­tion and pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment.

If the au­thor­i­ties did not take such ac­tion, he said, it would cause “se­ri­ous” san­i­ta­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems.

“As for hu­man rights, [Sar Kheng] said what they have done in Kam­pong Chh­nang was prac­tised with high at­ten­tion to hu­man rights and with­out any vi­o­la­tions or the con­fis­ca­tion of any­thing.

“Ev­ery­thing fol­lowed the law in main­tain­ing or­der,” So­phanit said.

HENG CHIVOAN

Sar Kheng greets UN Spe­cial Rap­por­teur for Hu­man Rights in Cam­bo­dia Rhona Smith at the Min­istry of In­te­rior in Ph­nom Penh on Wed­nes­day.

HENG CHIVOAN

UN Spe­cial Rap­por­teur for Hu­man Rights in Cam­bo­dia Rhona Smith at­tends a met­ing the Min­istry of In­te­rior on Wed­nes­day.

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