Cambodia’s contentious and at times violent political situation has pushed it “close to a dangerous tipping point,” the United Nations’ special human rights envoy to the Southeast Asian country said on Thursday.
Rhona Smith, the U.N.’s special rapporteur to Cambodia on human rights, said the tensions driven by the rivalry between Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) have grown worse since her last visit in September 2015.
“I have indicated earlier my concern that Cambodia is dangerously close to a tipping point,” she said in her statement.
“The political situation, which includes renewed threats, judicial proceedings and even physical beatings of members of the opposition, is worrying,” she said, in a reference to the CPP’s crackdown on CNRP politicians and activists.
Two CNRP lawmakers were dragged from their vehicles and beaten by protesters at a rally last October where more than 1,000 CPP supporters surrounded parliament, calling on CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha to resign as first vice president of the National Assembly.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who heads the CNRP, went into self-imposed exile last year after a warrant was issued for his arrest on a seven-year-old defamation charge and the CPP called for his removal from parliament.
Other CNRP members and activists are serving lengthy prison terms for convictions on insurrection charges for participating in a 2014 protest that turned violent in Phnom Penh’s Democracy Plaza.
“All laws must be applied equally and fairly to all political parties and their members to ensure protection of the democratic space in the run-up to the election,” Smith said, referring to general elections in 2018 that will determine whether strongman Hun Sen stays in power.
Hun Sen has ruled the country with an iron hand for more than 30 years.
'Situation is good'
Government spokesman Phay Siphan told RFA’s Khmer Service that Smith’s comments do not reflect what is really happening in the country.
“If we look at the reports by all of U.N.’s representatives, they have never reflected reality,” he said.
“The human rights situation is good and better compared to what it was the past,” he said. “Peace and stability exist, so to put it in terms of being on ‘the brink of disaster’ is going overboard. This cannot be used to describe the situation in Cambodia.”
During her second fact-finding mission to the country, Smith met with provincial authorities, local civil society organizations, members of indigenous communities, garment workers, and representatives from the private sectors in northern Cambodia’s Stung Treng and Preah Vihear provinces.
On Monday, Smith was blocked by plainclothes police when she tried to meet with ethnic Kuoy villagers in Preah Vihear’s Treng Meanchey district to discuss their land dispute with a Chinese sugarcane plantation company, The Cambodia Daily reported.
In a talk with Interior Minister Sar Kheng in the capital Phnom Penh on Wednesday, she discussed the incident as well as conditions at Prey Speu detention center which houses vagrants, drug addicts and sex workers, The Cambodia Daily said.
Reported by Sothearin Yeang and Pagnawath Khun. Translated by Pagnawath Khun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.