UN 'misunderstands' Cambodia's human rights reality

UN 'misunderstands' Cambodia's human rights reality

Rhona Smith and Hun Sen
Rhona Smith (L), UN special rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in Cambodia, shakes hands with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (R) during a meeting at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh on Sep 21, 2015. (Photo: AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)

PHNOM PENH: The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Cambodia does not have proper understanding of the country when it comes to human rights, according to the head of the country’s government rights body.

Keo Remy, the head of Cambodian Human Rights Committee said the UN’s Rhona Smith, currently on a 10-day fact finding mission, will “one day” understand the government’s actions on freedom of expression and other human rights issues.

“Now, she misunderstands the government but one day she will have the right understanding. She will understand that the government has done things correctly,” he said, following a meeting with Ms Smith in Phnom Penh on Wednesday (Mar 7).

Ms Smith had raised concerns about recent amendments to the constitution and criminal code, including the introduction of a new national lese majeste provision.

The two parties talks had been agreeable, Mr Keo said, but they could not find common points and he refuted that any law changes were anything different to what other countries had.

“There is no new law and not anything different from other countries,” he said. “There is nothing strange.”

“The important thing is that when Cambodia does correctly and you see that Cambodia is doing correctly, you will change your position from criticising the human rights (situation).”

Asked whether he was worried about Ms Smith’s report due in September, Mr Keo said he expected both “positive and negative” aspects.

However, he said he would never expect a UN special rapporteur to write favourably about the Cambodian government.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Ms Smith said she had raised concerns about political participation and about freedom of expression and Cambodia’s need to apply the law “compatibly with international human rights standards”.

“I did discuss the need to have full rights of political participation in Cambodia and for the views of the people who vote in the elections to be respected and recognised,” said Ms Smith.

However, she did not talk about November's dissolution of the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, following the arrest of its leader Kem Sokha on treason charges, which critics say were manufactured for political purposes.

Last month, two UN human rights experts expressed their grave concerns about the proposed changes to Cambodia’s constitution, which would imposed far-reaching limits on democracy ahead of a national election this year.

Other proposed changes to domestic law including a lese majeste provision making it illegal to insult the monarchy were also adopted by the lower chamber of parliament on Feb 14, raising a serious risk of violating human rights law, according to the UN.

“Lese majeste provisions are incompatible with Cambodia’s obligations under international human rights law, as they criminalised the legitimate exercise of freedom of speech,” Ms Smith said.

The Cambodian government typically rejects UN assessments and in the past have labelled them biased and not reflecting reality in Cambodia. Late last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened to close the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, but he changed his mind and let the organisation continue its work.

Source: CNA/ec