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Minister Warns UN Over Criticism

Taing Vida / Khmer Time Share:

Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn on Friday warned the UN’s Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Cambodia against criticizing government decisions, deeming it disrespectful to the nation’s sovereignty.
Mr. Sokhonn was referring to criticisms made by UN OHCHR country representative Wan-Hea Lee last month over the government’s decision to ban opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who has been living in self-imposed exile in France, from returning to Cambodia. Ms. Lee had called on the government to explain its motives, which she called “unjustified and arbitrary,” but added that the government’s explanation would likely be insufficient.
“Such comments have crossed the red line of the UN Charter underlining the respect for sovereignty and non-interference as well as the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 requiring all official business with the government to be conducted with or through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or other ministry, not through the media,” Mr. Sokhonn said in a letter sent to UN resident coordinator Claire Van der Vaeren on Friday.
Ms. Lee acknowledged the government’s concerns but said explaining their decisions was part of their duty to the international community and to their own citizens.
 “At the heart of the matter is the fact that when restrictions are imposed on this or any other human right, the UN human rights committee – and indeed, the Cambodian public – will expect an explanation which Cambodia is obliged to provide through many well established reporting channels. This is not a personal view. These are voluntarily accepted human rights standards and reporting obligations,” she said.
The minister added that the OHCHR’s current operations in Cambodia, including that of its country representative, were “not legitimate” because the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Cambodian government and the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights had yet to be renewed.
According to the OHCHR Cambodia website, the latest MoU between the UN and the government was signed by the previous UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanathem Pillay, who served until 2014, and the then-Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong in February 2014.
The MoU was to last until December 31, 2015, and a new MoU has yet to be signed.
Local media reported that this was the fifth time the government has allowed the MoU to lapse. In 2000, an MoU wasn’t signed for two years and the cooperation between the UN and Cambodia again was halted for a year in 2003 and 2006.
In 2009, an MoU was left stagnant for seven months before it was signed. However, the OHCHR’s work in Cambodia has not been hampered by the lack of an active MoU, local media reports added.
Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) spokesman Yim Sovann said the party supports all the findings and statements by the UN, especially on human rights issues, democracy and the violation of politician’s immunity.
He suggested that such statements should not be deemed illegal, but instead should be addressed and resolved by the government.
“The UN’s recommendations and suggestions were made because they found a problem,” he said. “Just like other countries, the UN has the role to check and verify all issues.
“It has helped Cambodia so far, but what I have observed since 1993 was that the government dislikes the role of the UN and has never accepted any criticisms,” he added, referring to the year when the OHCHR started operating in the Kingdom.
Last month, the Council of Ministers said in a letter that it would take legal measures to ensure that CNRP president Mr. Rainsy could not return to Cambodia.
The letter, sent to the department of immigration, said government representatives had met with a number of major airline owners and a variety of government officials to discuss ways to keep Mr. Rainsy away.
They told the airlines that Mr. Rainsy cannot be allowed back in the country and the government must be notified if he attempts to buy a plane ticket.
This was after Mr. Rainsy said he would return to Cambodia on condition that the government release all prisoners held under what he has deemed politically motivated charges.
Despite the ban, Mr. Rainsy has since pledged to return to Cambodia ahead of the 2018 national elections.
Mr. Rainsy has been in self-imposed exile since last November after being charged, retried and convicted in a variety of complaints, all filed by senior government leaders and ruling party officials.
He is being sued for defamation by high-ranking ruling party official Som Soeun, Prime Minister Hun Sen and Cambodian People’s Party leader Heng Samrin, while facing a fine of 160 million riel (about $40,000) for a defamation conviction brought by Mr. Namhong.
He is also facing up to 17 years in prison if convicted on a forgery and incitement charge related to a video he shared on his Facebook page showing a fake border treaty involving the dissolution of the border between Vietnam and Cambodia.

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