LETTER: Rhona Smith: UN Rapporteur, a political activist or an opposition activist?

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I discover in the press and especially in your newspaper the statements made by Ms Rhona Smith. I am surprised. Usually, does she not express herself at the end of her mission, after meeting all the parties, including members of the government? According to the Khmer Times, she is supposed to observe the human rights situation “in the context of the sustainable development goals” and the first information I read about her was about the critical comments she made publicly, challenging decisions of Justice. And now, I learn that she actively participated in a demonstration organized by unionists during which she took the floor to express remarks putting pressure on the National Assembly about a law that is still under debate.

As someone deeply interested in the situation of my country, I use to read among other significant documents, her reports on the web site of the UN Human Rights Council based in Geneva. I read the six reports she submitted to this Council since 2015. And I have been clouded by her open hostility against the Cambodian government. No doubt that there are negative and positive sides to any human rights situation in any country. And my country is no exception. Sadly, her reports did not have even a semblance of balance. Quite on the contrary, they were prejudicial reports. They were outright indictments as she was a prosecutor in a court of law.

Her reports, under the respectable UN logo, reflect a single point of view that mirrors that of the political opposition, whether expressed by the opposition party or through some politically affiliated NGOs. I compared what opponents used to say and what she wrote. It is exactly the same, frequently with the same wording. That explains why her reports conveniently ignored practices used by the opposition that is totally contrary to democratic principles and freedom of expression, to say the least.

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If she is supposedly neutral and espousing the Human Rights ideals as enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration, why, during her mandate, did she fail to condemn the systematic appeals by opposition leaders to racial hatred and xenophobia? She must know that such appeals have led in 1998 to the lynching of a Vietnamese family by a population inflamed by these racial statements made by the same leaders.

Ms. Smith’s reports are deafeningly silent on a regular practice by the opposition of defaming and slandering government officials for their past under the Pol Pot regime when their innocence was established not only by historians but also by the courts, even by Western courts.

Moreover, her reports deliberately misled the UN Human Rights Council in her omission of the publication by an opposition leader of a false bilateral treaty implying Cambodia has ceded part of its territory to Vietnam. In any country, publishing such untruthful document could lead to serious political consequences, let alone breach of public order. In a similar vein, Ms Smith never condemned nor reproached the acts of the opposition leader when he urged his political activists and the general populace to uproot border posts in an effort to stir up Vietnamese hatred. Such an act could have led to senseless bloodshed had the Vietnamese border guards reacted.

Ms. Smith turned a blind eye to the assertion of an opposition leader describing the Pol Pot regime’s S21 security center as a “Vietnamese staging”, when the Extraordinary Chamber of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) have tried and found guilty the S21 security centre director for the crimes against humanity committed in this torture centre. Ms Smith who is supposed to defend human rights even ignored the indignant protests of the few survivors of S21.

But again, why should we all be surprised? Coming from a person like her who considered the dropping of 2,756, 941 tons of bombs on the population and the horrible genocide committed by the Pol Pot regime as mere “troubles of the past century”, we shouldn’t be surprised. In fact, from my point of view, giving credit to her statements and reports would be tantamount to insulting the souls of the two million Khmers who have perished in that period.

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On the other hand, when the opposition behaviours, such as those I recall, come to actions by the judiciary, for her it is outright “politically motivated” court decisions as if the respect of the Cambodian laws doesn’t apply to the opposition.

When it comes to the issue of freedom of expression, Ms Smith’s bad faith is borderline to sheer ridicule. Indeed, there are cases of journalists or newspapers that have infringed the law, but to say that there is no freedom of the press, she must not know how to count. I did what she failed to do. I asked the Ministry of Information and here is the result your readers must know: as of January 2019, Cambodians and foreign nationals have access to some 439 newspapers (28 foreign-owned), 194 magazines (31 foreign-owned), 20 bulletins (4 foreign-owned), 171 news websites, 48 online TV channels, 40 press associations, 21 foreign news agencies, 83 FM radio stations, 137 provincial radio stations, 19 analogue TV stations, 8 digital TV stations, 210 provincial cable TV stations and free Internet access. In the name of freedom of expression, I should stop counting now.

According to her reports, every accusation made by those who are hostile to the Government is considered by Ms Smith as a “fait accompli” without her questioning the accuracy of the facts and the background that transpired, the political motivation, to name just a few. She only provided the one-sided narrative version of the opposition groups. Quite on the contrary, all the Government’s responses – when they are quoted – to safeguard its rightful legitimacy, sovereignty, independence and public order are categorically treated as “oppression”.

In an attempt to discredit all the electoral process in Cambodia since 1993, Ms Smith in the Addendum of his last report (September 2018) failed totally to underline the regular improvements initiated by the National Election Committee from 1998 until now. She failed to recognize that since the voter registration being digitalized, any accusation of manipulation of the lists has become unfounded and the new list was well accepted by all political groups. Such significant achievement was overlooked by Ms Smith.

She also “forgot” to observe that it is the party of MM. Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha which ended the culture of dialogue initiated by Prime Minister Hun Sen. I remember very well when Mr Sam Rainsy who had to receive the special status of the privileged interlocutor of the Prime Minister, compared him in the foreign press to Saddam Hussein and Muammar Khadafi. But it is the Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha party that is presented by Ms Smith as the victim of the rupture that it provoked.

To Ms Smith, political pluralism is dead in Cambodia, as if 20 political parties that had taken part in the last general elections did not exist, even as if almost 1,500,000 votes, or 23.15% of the valid votes, for the opposition parties did not happen.

I wonder if Ms Smith is aware of the harm she is doing to the Cambodian people with her totally biased reports. A friend gave me EU documents about EBA. Does Ms Smith know that 90% of the arguments used by the EU to suspend EBA come from her reports? Does she know that she has the responsibility to send back to misery three million Cambodians with her totally unbalanced reports? Is that a way to protect the basic human rights to food, to health, to housing, to work, to education, to culture, to well-being that is enshrined in the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights?

I am not a 100% supporter of the government. But I prefer to look at the half-full part of the bottle because I know where we come from and the huge deficit of human resources that our leaders have to face as a consequence of the so-called “trouble of the past century”, I mean the huge US bombing, the genocide and the embargo imposed by the West. As we learned from the history of the European countries, it took decades if not centuries to have enough skilled people to make a democracy working.

I am among those who think we need the support of the UN, of the EU, of the USA and also of our ASEAN partners and China. I shared the point of view expressed in the 60s by Samdech Euv, Norodom Sihanouk: “we want to have 1000 friends and no enemy”. But it was at a time human rights were not used as a pretext to interfere in home affairs and to violate the national sovereignty of a country.

While the human rights situation in Cambodia is analyzed through six reports in such a partial way by the Special Rapporteur and the Office preparing her visits, I do not understand why the government has renewed their mandate last year. Maybe it was a gesture of goodwill. No doubt that the governmental good faith is poorly rewarded.

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