The Cambodian government must do more to protect democratic freedoms in the run-up to national elections scheduled for next year, a U.N. official responsible for monitoring human rights in the Southeast Asian country said in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday.
In a report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council, special rapporteur Rhona Smith slammed violent rhetoric and threats directed by prime minister Hun Sen against the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) and its supporters, along with the jailing on questionable charges of opposition figures.
“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,” Smith said in her report.
Echoing Smith’s remarks, U.S. representative to the Council Jason Mack said the United States “remains gravely concerned about the Government of Cambodia’s ongoing crackdown on opposition parties, independent media, and civil society.”
“The politically-motivated arrest and detention of opposition leader Kem Sokha [has] underscored the need for continued attention by the Council,” Mack said.
CNRP leader Kem Sokha was arrested without a warrant in the capital Phnom Penh on Sept. 3 and accused of trying to topple the government with backing from Washington. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Critics say the move shows Hun Sen is intensifying his attacks on political opponents ahead of national elections scheduled for 2018.
Cambodia’s government has meanwhile expelled U.S.-funded NGO the National Democratic Institute (NDI), suspended some 20 radio stations that aired content by U.S. broadcasters Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, and targeted the English-language Cambodia Daily with a hefty tax bill, leading to the newspaper’s closure.
'Selective, unverified' criticisms
Addressing the Council on Tuesday, Cambodian representative Ney Sam Ol said criticisms of Cambodia’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and Prime Minister Hun Sen have been “based on selective and unverified sources.”
“Political manipulation has been persistently conducted against my government,” Ney Sam Ol said.
"Cambodia remains committed to cooperate and partner with all U.N. human rights mechanisms and relevant stakeholders to further the promotion and protection of human rights based on mutual respect and the principle of noninterference, as mentioned in the U.N. charter and other international human rights instruments."
Also speaking in Geneva, the representative to the Council from the UK said his country “remains deeply concerned about the use of judicial proceedings against opposition leader Kem Sokha and other opposition politicians and NGO figures, in ways that appear to be politically motivated.”
“Together with harsh restrictions on media outlets and NGOs, including the enforced closure of Cambodia Daily and the National Democratic Institute, these measures imperil multi-party democracy and free debate.”
Cambodia must now take “immediate steps to ensure that free, fair, and credible elections take place in July 2018,” the UK representative said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.