UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith yesterday said she should have the right to meet all detainees in Cambodia, especially former opposition party leader Kem Sokha who is accused of treason.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting with the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, Ms Smith expressed regret that the Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigating judge rejected for the third time her request to meet with Mr Sokha.
“I find it very unfortunate because as an independent expert appointed by the UN, I should have the right to access places of detention and also to meet with detainees and Kem Sokha is still detained albeit not directly in a prison,” Ms Smith said. “I should be entitled to meet with him and have a confidential meeting and discussion with him.”
Phnom Penh Municipal Court denied her request to meet with Mr Sokha, who remains on bail, during her current mission to the Kingdom.
Chin Malin, CHRC vice president, said Ms Smith did not raise any issues related to Mr Sokha during a discussion with him yesterday, noting that as a UN expert she also needs to respect Cambodian laws.
“Under Cambodian laws, the judge has the right to reject any request due to an ongoing investigation,” he said. “Judge Ky Rithy is still questioning Mr Sokha. Therefore, he could reject the request if he thinks it would affect his work.”
Chan Chen, one of Mr Sokha’s lawyers, believes the meeting between Ms Smith and his client had no influence on the investigation.
“I’m disappointed again and again when the judge repeatedly dismisses Ms Smith’s request,” he said. “UN experts should have obtained the right to access my client.”
Mr Malin also told reporters yesterday that during the meeting, Ms Smith and CHRC focused mainly on the progress of the implementation of recommendations that Cambodia received from 73 UN member states during the world body’s Universal Periodic Review in January.
“Ms Smith has evaluated what the Cambodian government has implemented and improved on so far,” he said. “She also praised the efforts of our working group dealing with prison overcrowding issues, which we are pushing hard for address now.”
According to Ms Smith, both parties also discussed the progress that has been made in Cambodia on several UN mechanisms regarding Cambodia’s human rights situation.
“There has certainly been an improvement in that the government has made progress in submitting its reports to the UN for independent review,” she said. “This is certainly encouraging.”
“The Cambodian situation will be reviewed by a range of independent experts,” she added. “So to me, this is a positive move.”
Ms Smith said she noticed that the Cambodian government is currently working on ensuring appropriate consultation with civil society organisations and also across government ministries on implementing the recommendation made by treaty bodies.
“I think there is work to be done on consultations and implementation of work plans to ensure that rights are better protected in Cambodia,” she added.