The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia yesterday asked the Interior Minister to justify the dissolution of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.
Rhona Smith is on a 10-day mission to the Kingdom and yesterday held a closed-door meeting with Interior Minister Sar Kheng.
Afterwards, she told reporters that she had inquired about the dissolution of the CNRP ahead of July’s national election while discussing controversial laws, including the Law on Political Parties and the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations.
“I discussed a wide range of issues,” she said. “I raised a number of issues about the role of the Ministry of Interior in the dissolution of political parties and the decision whether or not to dissolve political parties; that was one of many issues.”
On November 16, the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP and banned 118 of its senior members from politics for five years in the wake of party leader Kem Sokha being jailed on treason charges.
Both Mr Sokha and the party were accused by the Interior Ministry of being behind a plot to overthrow the government through a colour revolution with the aid of a foreign power, the United States.
Phat Sophanith, deputy cabinet chief at the Interior Ministry, told reporters that Mr Kheng clearly explained to Ms Smith that the CNRP was dissolved because it violated the law.
“Mr Kheng said the dissolution of the CNRP was brought upon by themselves by breaking the law,” he said.
Mr Sophanith said Mr Kheng also explained to Ms Smith that the ministry was using the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations to ensure that NGOs were not operating with malicious intent.
“These laws were not created to restrict people’s freedom of expression,” Mr Sophanith said.
Mr Sophanith added that MS Smith inquired as to why the Human Rights Party was barred from dissolving itself when it put in a request to the ministry to do so after the fall of the CNRP.
“He told her that they did not follow the statutes because they did not hold a party congress before making the request for dissolution,” he said.
The CNRP was formed after a merger between two opposition parties, the Sam Rainsy Party and Human Rights Party, in 2013 and contested the general election that year, winning 55 seats from the total of 123 in the National Assembly.
The party also contested the commune elections in June last year, winning more than 40 percent of seats.
After its dissolution, all of its positions were doled out to other parties, with the ruling CPP scooping up most of the available seats at the local level.