Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn has in New York defended the government’s arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha, claiming the country “upholds itself to the universal principle of fundamental human rights”.
Speaking on Friday during an address to the United Nations General Assembly, Mr Sokhonn accused the international community of criticising Cambodia to further their own aims.
“The assessment of the human rights situation varies depending on the political predisposition of certain great powers. The same reasoning holds true for the big international NGOs, whose agendas are far from being politically neutral,” he said.
“The issue of human rights and democracy is raised only when the specific interests of certain major powers are at stake, at the vagaries of the movement. Otherwise, it is sheer silence, and often a conspiracy of silence.”
Mr Sokhonn said the government has been attacked for “the arrest of an opposition official who, in a video recorded interview, confessed to be an agent of a big power working to overthrow our government”.
“In what country would such behaviour of a foreign government be tolerated? We have acted totally in accordance with the provisions stipulated in our laws and I can assure you that these actions are not arbitrary as some critics would have you believe,” he said.
“Today, we are accused of undermining democracy because, under existing laws, we are prosecuting and punishing people who violate these laws. Those who criticise us, even threaten us, refuse to take into consideration the crimes committed under the law by those whom they protect.”
Mr Sokha has been 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.
Mr Sokhonn went on to argue that the country’s history shows how harmful Western interference can be.
“When we have been forced to chose the path set by some Western powers, we ended up suffering the worst consequences as manifested by one of the most horrific human tragedies of the last century,” he said.
“The discourse of certain governments on human rights and democracy will be relevant and credible only when these countries choose to subject themselves first to the same standards as others when it comes to their own assessments, criticisms and condemnations.”
However, CNRP vice-president Mu Sochua dismissed Mr Sokhonn’s claim that human rights and democracy are being protected in Cambodia.
“The United Nations already has evidence contrary to what he was saying,” she said. “The international community can’t accept those claims and he should not address the UN saying that we don’t have any problems when Cambodia still needs a million dollars in annual assistance from the UN.”
She added that basic principles of human rights and democracy are recognised as universal across all countries and do not serve the political aims of any one nation.