U.N. Human Rights Watchdog Gets to Stay in Cambodia

2016-12-20
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Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) shakes hands with new Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon (R) during a handover ceremony at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Phnom Penh, April 5, 2016.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) shakes hands with new Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon (R) during a handover ceremony at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Phnom Penh, April 5, 2016.
AFP

Phnom Penh and the United Nations reached an agreement this week that allows the U.N.’s human rights office to stay in Cambodia, despite threats to kick the international watchdog out of the country.

Both the government and the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) announced they had reached a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Monday that will allow the office to stay in the country for another two-year term.

In its press release, the foreign affairs ministry said the OHCHR agree to new language that stipulates that the office will respect Cambodia’s sovereignty.

“Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state,” the ministry wrote.

Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon accused the OHCHR last month of “arrogant and disrespectful behavior toward the sovereignty of Cambodia,” and threatened to end the country’s cooperation with the office unless it agrees to quit "meddling" in the nation’s internal affairs.

“Despite the [Royal Government of Cambodia’s] efforts to enhance the smooth, constructive, and effective cooperation based on mutual respect, the OHCHR has furthermore been stepping up its interference in internal affairs of Cambodia,” he wrote in a Nov. 22 letter to OHCHR leader Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein.

The OHCHR had continued to operate in Cambodia even though the MOU with the country lapsed last year.

‘Mutually acceptable agreement’

Liz Throssell, the OHCHR spokesperson in Geneva, called the new deal a “mutually acceptable agreement that takes into account the positions of both sides and preserves the integrity of the MOU.”

Cambodia’s government has bristled over comments made in November by the OHCHR’s country representative Wan-Hea Lee, who told local media that an Interior Ministry directive barring Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Sam Rainsy from entering the country was a likely rights violation.

“No elements of the decision to block the entry of Mr. Sam Rainsy into Cambodia have been brought to light that would allow anyone to assess its reasonableness, which renders the decision unjustified and arbitrary,” Lee wrote in an email to The Cambodia Daily.

In October, the Cambodian government ordered police, immigration, and aviation authorities to "use all ways and means" to prevent opposition leader Sam Rainsy from returning from exile, as he has pledged to do before elections in 2017 and 2018.

The opposition leader has been abroad for a year to avoid a two-year prison sentence handed down in a defamation case. It is not the only conviction handed down by the courts.

In the latest case, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found the opposition leader guilty of defamation on Nov. 8 for claiming that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s social medial team bought “likes” on Facebook from “click farms” abroad to increase his support.

At the time of his latest conviction, the opposition leader said he could never win in the Cambodian courts because they are “puppets of the government.”

Reported for RFA's Khmer Service by Sothearin Yeang. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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