Cambodia Rejects Appeal to UN on Rights Record

A 45-nation group urges the UN Human Rights Council to take action on Cambodia, citing a 'deteriorating' situation.

The assembly hall of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva is shown in a file photo.

Cambodia on Thursday rejected a 45-nation submission to the U.N. Human Rights Council demanding that Phnom Penh reinstate the country’s now-dissolved main political opposition party ahead of national elections in July, calling the document “illegitimate” and politically motivated.

The appeal, submitted on Wednesday by New Zealand on behalf of the document’s signers, voiced “deep concern” at what it described as a serious decline of civil and political rights in Cambodia, including the shuttering of independent media and civil society organizations and moves by state-controlled courts to close the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and jail its leader, Kem Sokha.

“An electoral process from which the main democratic opposition party has been arbitrarily excluded cannot be considered genuine or legitimate,” the appeal to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council says. “For the Cambodian government to retain its legitimacy, any elections must be free, fair and credible.”

In a response, Cambodian ambassador to the U.N. Ney Sam Ol slammed the submission, describing it as an attempt to interfere in Cambodia’s domestic affairs and promote “pre-selected” candidates favoring regime change in the Southeast Asian country.

Writing on Thursday on the Telegram messaging platform, Sok Eysan—spokesperson for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP)—also criticized the submission to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, calling it “politically motivated and unacceptable.”

“Not only does [this] move violate the will of the entire Cambodian population, but it also undermines democracy in Cambodia,” Sok Eysan said. “Cambodia treats [this] statement as an act of interference into the internal affairs, independence and sovereignty of Cambodia.”

Sok Eysan did not elaborate on how the will of the Cambodian people was being gauged since the banning of the CNRP and the effective nullification of 2017 commune election results, in which that opposition party fared well.

'Rebellion'

In September, Cambodian authorities arrested CNRP chief Kem Sokha on charges of “treason,” and two months later the Supreme Court ruled to disband his party for allegedly planning a “rebellion” with backing from Washington, essentially eliminating any challenge to the CPP ahead of the vote this year.

Cambodian authorities have also used a pretext of tax and administrative violations to close independent radio stations carrying reports from RFA and Voice of America, and forced the closure of the American-owned Cambodia Daily newspaper in early September. RFA shuttered its Phnom Penh bureau soon after.

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Cambodian political analyst Lao Mong Hay said that the U.N. Human Rights Council must now address the deteriorating political situation in Cambodia, as the international community shares responsibility for ensuring “that Cambodia respects human rights and democracy.”

“These countries are obliged to raise this matter in a timely manner,” he said.

In a statement Thursday, the international rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) welcomed Wednesday’s joint submission to the Human Rights Council, noting though that “[the] Council has so far failed to take meaningful action.”

“Cambodia is on the path to once again becoming a one-party state,” HRW said, adding, “July’s election will lack legitimacy without the participation of the opposition.”

“The Council should demand the release of all political prisoners and reinstatement of all politicians and parties. The Council should not stand idly by as Cambodia descends into authoritarianism,” it said.

'Insulting an official'

In a ruling that underscored concerns about deteriorating freedoms in Cambodia, the trial court of Kampong Speu sentenced Sam Sokha to two years in prison and a fine of five million riles ($1,250) for throwing a shoe at billboard photos of Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly President Heng Samrin.

Sam Sokha, 38, had posted a video on social media on April 1, 2017, saying: "These are the men who are destroying our nation."

She was sentenced in absentia in 2017 to a two-year term for "incitement to discriminate" and "insulting a public official" by the same court after she fled to Thailand. Thai authorities arrested her in early January 2018 and deported her on Feb. 8, when she was sent straight to prison in Kampong Speu.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Richard Finney.