UN envoy calls for more action to protect human rights in Cambodia
THE UN special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia has urged its government to better protect, respect and promote human rights, citing worrisome developments in the country that portrays itself as a pluralist liberal democracy.
In her report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday, Rhona Smith noted that nongovernmental organisations have in recent months come under government pressure and there has been a dramatic reduction in freedom of the media.
“The deterioration of the democratic space and freedom of expression in Cambodia is a primary concern, with many NGOS and human rights defenders subject to threats, harassment, arrest, and/or extensive pre-trial detention,” she said.
Smith said a range of laws have been employed to restrict criticism against the government and quell political debate.
For example, she said, changes in the Law on Political Parties prohibit anyone convicted of a crime from holding political office and permit the dissolution of any political party deemed to be secessionist or subversive.
It also prohibits a party from using voice messages, images, written documents of a person convicted of a felony or misdemeanor.
The law has been applied in the case of Sam Rainsy, the former leader of the largest opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, who is living abroad and faces arrest if he returns to Cambodia due to multiple convictions and new court cases registered against him.
The CNRP’S current leader Kem Sokha is already in jail, after being arrested early this month and charged with treason, while other opposition leaders have also been detained.
Smith said the regular statements of government ministers containing violent rhetoric and threats add to the climate of fear ahead of next year’s general election, scheduled to be held in July.
“As I have said before, with power comes responsibility, and regular threats and scaremongering have no place in a peaceful society such as Cambodia, which still bears the scars of its tragic past,” she added.
Cambodia’s representatives at the session suggested that Smith’s statements were based on selective and unverified sources.
They charged that political manipulation had been persistently conducted against the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, while insisting that it remains committed to human rights.