Smith calls for ‘re­lease’ of Sokha as visit ends

The Phnom Penh Post - - FRONT PAGE - Ben Sokhean

AT A press con­fer­ence to con­clude her 11-day visit to Cam­bo­dia, UN Spe­cial Rap­por­teur for Hu­man Rights in Cam­bo­dia Rhona Smith on Thurs­day called for trea­son charges against for­mer op­po­si­tion leader Kem Sokha to be dropped and for him to be re­leased from “re­stricted de­ten­tion”.

How­ever, Coun­cil of Min­is­ters spokesman Phay Siphan crit­i­cised the call, say­ing it is “im­pos­si­ble”. He also ac­cused Smith of for­get­ting the “pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments” Cam­bo­dia has made re­gard­ing hu­man rights.

Dur­ing her trip, Smith met se­nior govern­ment of­fi­cials, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of civil so­ci­ety and mem­bers of the diplo­matic com­mu­nity.

She is to present a re­port to the United Na­tions Hu­man Rights Coun­cil next Septem­ber.

Du r i ng t he 4 0 -mi nute pre s s brief ing at t he Off ice of t he High Com­mis­sioner for Hu­man Rights (OHCHR) in Phnom Penh, to field ques­tions on her v isit, Smith said she and govern­ment of­fi­cia ls had open ly dis­cussed hu­man r ig hts a nd susta in­able devel­op­ment in Cam­bo­dia.

She said she had ex­pressed her sup­port for the Cam­bo­dian gov­ern- ment’s re­cent re­newal of a two-year man­date for the OHCHR in the King­dom.

“I warmly wel­come the ex­ten­sion of the mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing and the will­ing­ness of the govern­ment to work closely with the OHCHR in-coun­try in the pro­mo­tion and pro­tec­tion of hu­man rights,” Smith said.

She said that over the past year she had re­ceived nu­mer­ous re­ports of civil so­ci­ety ac­tiv­i­ties be­ing “stopped and hin­dered” af­ter a Min­istry of In­te­rior in­struc­tion in Oc­to­ber last year re­quir­ing civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions to give prior no­ti­fi­ca­tion of their ac­tiv­i­ties.

Smith noted the royal par­dons of op­po­si­tion fig­ures and Boe­ung Kak com­mu­nity land ac­tivist Tep Vanny, as well as the sus­pended sen­tences in the case of the Ad­hoc 5.

She said she re­mained con­cerned that Sokha, the for­mer pres­i­dent of the Supreme Court-dis­solved Cam­bo­dia Na­tional Res­cue Party (CNRP), re­mained un­der court-su­per­vised bail with his rights and free­doms cur­tailed more than 14 months af­ter his ar­rest and fol­low­ing more than a year in prison.

“I call for the lift­ing of the sen­tences against Tep Vanny and the

[Ad­hoc 5]. I re­main con­cerned about the charges pend­ing against the [for­mer Ra­dio Free Asia] jour­nal­ists.

“I also call for the re­lease of Kem Sokha from re­stricted de­ten­tion and for the swift con­clu­sion of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his case to en­sure his right to a trial within a rea­son­able time, based on a clear and trans­par­ent eval­u­a­tion of the ev­i­dence, or for the charges to be dropped.”

Smith called on the Min­istry of Jus­tice to en­sure that all court-re­lated fees are promi­nently posted in the court premises, are clearly vis­i­ble to the pub­lic, and placed in such a way that they can­not be re­moved.

“I also call on the Min­istry of Jus­tice and ju­di­cial in­sti­tu­tions to be more trans­par­ent in re­la­tion to their oper­a­tions, in­clud­ing in the cri­te­ria and meth­ods used to de­cide the pro­mo­tion and trans­fer of judges and pros­e­cu­tors, and to take more ac­tive steps to com­bat cor­rup­tion and strengthen ju­di­cial in­de­pen­dence and im­par­tial­ity.”

Smith call ‘im­pos­si­ble’

Re­spond­ing to her com­ments, Siphan said Smith’s con­cerns were made by some­one who rarely came to Cam­bo­dia, while the Cam­bo­dian govern­ment was ad­dress­ing some of the con­cerns she men­tioned.

“I think [Smith’s] wor­ries [are those] of a per­son who comes to Cam­bo­dia rarely. She for­got about the pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments made in Cam­bo­dia in re­sponse to the chal­lenges in hu­man right is­sues. The govern­ment re­formed the ju­di­cial sys­tem, while all hu­man rights are pro­tected by the rule of law.

“Some is­sues . . . the govern­ment knows al­ready. Smith just learned [about them] from us. What we re­quested is she does not do any­thing that goes be­yond her au­thor­ity, such as go against our Supreme Court and Phnom Penh Mu­nic­i­pal Court de­ci­sions,” he said.

Siphan said Smith’s re­quest for Sokha to be re­leased or have his charges dropped was “im­pos­si­ble”.

“Kem Sok ha is a sus­pect un­der i nvest igat ion by t he court sys­tem, and the Cam­bo­dian Con­sti­tut ion clea rly states t hat t he court sys­tem ca nnot be in­ter fered or put un­der pres­sure by any­body – even Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen does not have t he abilit y to in­ter vene in it, ” he said.

Ou Chan­rath, a for­mer CNRP law­maker, sup­ported Smith’s state­ment and said he was op­ti­mistic about her visit. “I be­lieve it can widen the space for democ­racy and re­spect for hu­man rights,” he said.

He al s o sup­ported t he “re­lease” of Sokha, say­ing, “it is right, and I 100 per cent agree with re­leas­ing Kem Sokha. It has been over a year and there is still no ev­i­dence [sup­port­ing the charges].

“So his re­lease is the im­por­tant thing,” he said.




Kem Sokha speaks at the of­fice of the court-dis­solved Cam­bo­dia Na­tional Res­cue Party in Phnom Penh in 2016.

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