HUMAN rights in Cambodia took centre stage on Wednesday as two United Nations officials warned of the country’s growing repression and disregard for civil liberties.
United Nations Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith urged the government to respect the rule of law and not “rule by law” during a meeting with the head of the government’s human rights committee, reported Radio Free Asia.
“I did discuss the need to have full rights of political participation in Cambodia and for the views of the people who want the results of the elections to be respected and recognised,” she told reporters, referring to a general election in July.
Smith said she also discussed the compatibility of laws with international human rights standards, and the abuse of laws that are “used to restrict or limit freedom of expression” in the country.
The same day, UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein told the Human Rights Council that he was increasingly concerned by “moves to repress dissent and close political and civil society space,” reported RFA.
“Broadly-worded legal provisions have been used to silence civil society organisations, journalists and members and supporters of political parties,” he said.
Al Hussein also warned that recent changes to the constitution and criminal code were likely to further “erode political rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Cambodia’s long-running Prime Minister Hun Sen has overseen the dissolution of the leading opposition party, Cambodia National Rescue Party, and the imprisonment of their leader Kem Sokha on charges of treason.
Independent news media and international NGOs have also been shuttered in part of his campaign to silence dissent and opposition in the lead up to elections. Hun Sen even threatened to close the Cambodian Center for Human Rights but later reneged on the suggestion and allowed the organisation continue its work.
Not everyone agreed with the UN’s troubling assessment of human rights in the country, however.
Keo Remy, the head of Cambodia’s human rights committee who met with Smith on Wednesday, said the UN Special Rapporteur simply didn’t understand the situation in the country.
“Now, she misunderstands the government but one day she will have the right understanding. She will understand that the government has done things correctly,” he said, as reported by Channel News Asia.
While the conversation had been agreeable, according to Keo Remy, the pair found little to agree on. He claimed that once Smith sees that Cambodia is doing things “correctly,” she will change her position and stop criticising the government’s human rights record.