The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia yesterday urged Interior Minister Sar Kheng to respect human rights when relocating hundreds of Cham and Vietnamese minorities living on the Tonle Sap river in Kampong Chhnang province.
Interior Ministry spokesman Phat Sophanith told reporters that UN envoy Rhona Smith expressed concerns over how authorities have been handling the evictions during a meeting with Mr Kheng yesterday.
Mr Sophanith noted that Ms Smith met with local authorities and residents living around the Tonle Sap river in Kampong Chhnang last week.
“She went to Kampong Chhnang and observed the situation there. Her concern is regarding human rights. She’s concerned that the relocation could affect the rights of the residents,” he said.
“But Samdech Sar Kheng told her that the move was to ensure a clean environment,” he added. “If we do not relocate them, the problem could be larger.”
Mr Sophanith said that Mr Kheng informed Ms Smith that authorities are taking steps to ensure that human rights are respected during the evictions.
Kampong Chhnang provincial authorities began relocating 2,397 ethnic Cham and Vietnamese families living on the Tonle Sap river to dry land early last month. The authorities are hoping to complete the work by the end of the year.
Ms Smith told reporters that she discussed a number of issues with Mr Kheng regarding the opening of civil society space, prison overcrowding, the law on nationality and anti-drug campaigns.
“We looked at a wide range of issues, many of which we had also discussed with the Interior Ministry,” Ms Smith said. “I asked him for various measures to be taken and I think that he can do it.”
“We discussed issues related to pre-trial detention and looking at alternatives to custodial sentencing in the context of prison overcrowding,” she added.
Mr Sophanith said Mr Kheng informed Ms Smith about the establishment of a working group tasked with addressing issues raised by NGOs regarding difficulties conducting field work.
Mr Kheng acknowledged concerns over the increase of the general prison population and noted that additional prisons are under construction.