Cambodia’s representative to the United Nations has issued guidelines on how its new expert on human rights in the country should do his job in the authoritarian country, highlighting years of antagonism between Phnom Penh and U.N. over rollbacks of democracy by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.
In a statement made at the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council on Wednesday, Cambodia Ambassador and Permanent Representative Sokkhoeurn An said that his country had accepted six Special Rapporteurs over the last three decades, proving its open engagement with the agency and processs, but that “cooperation is a two-way process.”
He said that Special Procedure Mandate Holders (SPMHs) are expected to perform their duties “in an objective, impartial, non-selective and non-politicized manner,” and suggested that experts should adhere to their code of conduct by “establishing facts duly cross-checked.”
Sokkhoeurn An also urged SPMHs to assist states in the field of human rights “through genuine dialogues and cooperation with non-judicial character of the reports and conclusion, bearing in mind the national particularities of each country.”
Lastly, the representative said that SPMHs should provide advice on requested technical cooperation and capacity building assistance “with a view to addressing the underlying conditions rather than attending only to the symptoms.”
“To conclude, only with due diligence to the said protocols will the SPMHs earn trust from the states,” he said.
Sokkhoeurn An’s statement follows the recent appointment by the U.N. Human Rights Council of Thailand’s Vitit Muntarbhorn to the role of Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia, following the end of a five-year mandate by his predecessor Rhona Smith in January.
Muntarbhorn, an international law professor, had previously served as the first U.N. Independent Expert on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for the Human Rights Council.
Smith’s tenure as Special Rapporteur was marked by frequent sparring with Cambodia’s government over issues related to the September 2017 arrest of opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Kem Sokha for “treason” and the disbanding of his party for its role in the alleged plot two months later.
The move to dissolve the CNRP marked the beginning of a wider crackdown by Hun Sen on the political opposition, NGOs, and the independent media that paved the way for his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in the country’s July 2018 general election.
In November, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court summoned at least 113 individuals connected to the CNRP to stand trial together, most of whom face charges of conspiracy and incitement to sow chaos in society—crimes punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The prospect of a rapid mass trial of the opposition prompted Smith to express serious concerns in a statement ahead of the proceedings, which she said appeared to be “politically motivated, lacking clear legal grounds and constitute a serious violation of the due process rights, firmly established by international human rights law.”
Underscoring the difficulties the new U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights will face in Phnom Penh, the Siem Reap Provincial Court jailed three more CNRP activists Thursday to five years in prison over a “conspiracy to topple the government” after they spoke out against Hun Sen’s government.
One of the three, an activist named Chhun Vean who is currently seeking asylum in neighboring Thailand, dismissed the verdict as “laughable” in an interview with RFA’s Khmer Service.
“It proves that the court is a tool of the Phnom Penh regime to persecute the opposition party,” he said.
Chhun Vean said that the sentence would only motivate him to work harder to “bring democracy to Cambodia.”
Sam Sokong, a lawyer representing the three activists, told RFA that his clients were innocent of the crime they were charged with and were only expressing their personal opinions, as is their right under Cambodia’s constitution.
He vowed to appeal the verdict.
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