The Foreign Affairs Ministry yesterday lashed out at the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights after he criticised the government’s crackdown on independent media outlets and arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha.
Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Monday told the UN’s Human Rights Council he was worried about Cambodia’s deteriorating human rights situation.
“I am seriously concerned at the recent arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha, which appears to have been undertaken without respect for due process guarantees or his parliamentary immunity,” said Mr Al Hussein.
“I am also concerned that numerous public statements by the Prime Minister and high-ranking officials about Kem Sokha’s alleged guilt violate the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial.”
Mr Al Hussein also cited the recent closure of the National Democratic Institute, the revocation of numerous radio station licences, and the closure of the Cambodia Daily newspaper as a major worry.
“I strongly urge the government, ahead of next year’s general election, to guarantee full political and civil rights, and media freedoms. I further call on the government to guarantee the independence of the courts; ensure due process, including the right to appeal, in all administrative measures; and to respect the rights to freedom of association and expression,” Mr Al Hussein said.
However, the Foreign Affairs Ministry accused Mr Al Hussein of misjudging the situation in the country.
“It is regrettable that the High Commissioner has selectively chosen to accuse the Royal Government of Cambodia without looking to the legal aspects behind the grave violations of the individual and institutions against the law in force in Cambodia,” it said.
It added the High Commissioner should clarify why an individual who committed treason, an NGO that conducted activities without legal permission, and a newspaper that did not pay tax should be exempt from law enforcement.
The statement went on to say that political and civil rights, media freedom, as well as freedom of association and expression were fully protected in Cambodia.
“These are being enjoyed by everyone except for those law-violating entities, which are extremely low in number,” it said.
Cambodian Human Rights Committee member Chin Malin, who returned from the UN Human Rights Council meeting last night, told local reporters the government’s arrest of the opposition leader and closure of an NGO and media organisations were to maintain security and political stability.
“This will not affect electoral processes in 2018,” Mr Malin said.
But political analyst Meas Ny said it was hard to reconcile the government’s view on the current situation with that of the international community and many in the country.
“I don’t know whether government really thinks it has not violated human rights, but there are definitely different views on the matter.
“Cambodia’s economy is only just growing, so we still depend on other countries around the world. If our country isolates itself our economy will have a problem.
“The arrest of the opposition leader and numerous threats is enough to suggest the election ahead election will not be equitable.”
Mr Sokha was last week charged with treason over comments made in 2013 video footage from Australia-based CBN news, which showed him saying the US government had been helping him to push for regime change in Cambodia since 1993.
His arrest and detention was widely condemned by the international community, including the EU, America and Australia, who called for his immediate release. China has however offered its support on the issue.