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UN Rapporteur to Visit Kingdom

May Titthara / Khmer Times Share:
Rhona Smith will hold a number of meetings during her visit to Cambodia. KT/Mai Vireak

Rhona Smith, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, will start her 10-day visit to the Kingdom today, with plans to meet government officials, opposition party activists and civil society workers.
Am Sam Ath, a senior coordinator for rights group Licadho, said he was not sure who Ms. Smith would meet while she was here, but added that if he did get to meet her, he would ask about the situations surrounding land disputes, the country’s judiciary and systemic human rights violations.
“We will raise the issue of human rights which have seriously deteriorated and we will ask her to speak to the government,” he said.
“In this last period, human rights have deteriorated badly and the courts have become a tool of politicians,” he added, telling Khmer Times that the boycott of the National Assembly by the opposition party as well as the arrest of human rights activists and politicians critical of the ruling party were evidence that the government was not respecting human rights.
Seoung Sen Karona, a human rights monitor and investigator for rights group Adhoc, said he would have plenty to discuss with Ms. Smith because the last few months have been particularly contentious concerning human rights in Cambodia.
“In this last period, there were serious human rights violations. Politicians, land and human rights activists were used as a political tool, as seen in the case of four Adhoc officials and the deputy secretary-general of the NEC [National Election Committee],” he said, referring to the arrest in May and continued detention of four civil society workers and an election official.
Mr. Sen Karona said the issues in the political sector were permeating issues Cambodians faced on a daily basis. The goal, he said, should be to have a cohesive political process that was inclusive of all parties so the nation’s issues could be addressed instead of argued over for political gain.
“If the political situation becomes stuck, human rights issues will also get worse,” he said.  
According to a press release from the Office of the UN’s High Commissioner For Human Rights, Ms. Smith will have meetings with senior government officials, head of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee Keo Remy, a number of civil society groups and other diplomatic organizations.
She also has plans to travel across the country and gather information from the provinces. In the statement, she said she planned to focus on the discrimination of minorities and other marginalized groups.
This will be Ms. Smith’s third visit to Cambodia since she was appointed in March 2015. Among other things, Ms. Smith will primarily be reviewing the human rights situation in the country, monitoring the implementation of previous recommendations and making suggestions for future changes.
Ahead of her arrival, a number of citizens and groups suffering from land evictions across the country will meet in Phnom Penh to plan a potential protest today to commemorate the 31st World Habitat Day.
Phnom Penh City Hall refused to allow the group to celebrate the day at a variety of locations across the city, and their rejection, for many involved in the celebration, was evidence of the kind of government response they are trying to work against.
Sao Kosal, the technical program manager of urban NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), said more than 1,000 people involved in land disputes or evictions from 99 communities in seven provinces will celebrate the day in the Dey Krahom area near the Russian embassy, even though City Hall refused to give them the go-ahead to gather there.
But for Mr. Kosal, any potential arrests paled in comparison to the reason why they chose that specific area to hold their event.
“The reason that all communities want to celebrate it at Dey Krahom is because the area is a place where authorities evicted hundreds of families in land disputes without proper compensation and with human rights violations,” he said.

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