The UN special rapporteur for Cambodia, Rhona Smith, has warned of a significant deterioration in the one-party state’s political situation and urged the dictatorial government to relax its grip, prompting China and Asean allies to defend the regime.
Before the July general election, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party shut down the independent media and jailed political opponents and journalists.
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was dissolved, allowing Hun Sen’s party to win all 125 seats in the sham election.
China promptly defended its close Asean ally with representative Liu Jieyi saying Beijing welcomed the “smooth” election while backing Cambodia’s economic and social development. He praised Cambodia for its “political stability”.
Hun Sen, prime minister since 1985, is the world’s longest-serving head of government.
“We appeal to the international community to follow the will of the Cambodian people,” Liu told the United Nations.
Other non-democratic states also defended Cambodia. Myanmar’s representative said the global community should keep providing capacity building mechanisms to strengthen human rights in Cambodia.
“Only through engagement can human rights get to people,” the Burmese envoy said, with the backing of Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, along with the democratic Philippines.
However, Japan said it provided technical assistance for the election and considered the process disappointing.
The European Union representative expressed concern and echoed Smith’s demands, saying the bloc would act against Phnom Penh if the rights situation did not improve. He said the July election was not representative of the will of the people and was illegitimate.
Speaking in Geneva, Smith said: “Laws are increasingly being used in Cambodia to oppress the opposition and silence dissent and create a climate of fear.”
Smith urged the government to improve its human rights record to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and said she would revisit the impoverished country soon.
In her report to the UN Human Rights Council, the British academic said the dissolution of the CNRP and banning of 118 of its members from political activity “seriously calls into question the genuineness of these elections”.
The July election had “consigned multiparty liberal democracy to history for the next five years”, ending steady improvements in previous votes in terms of compliance with international standards.
Smith said it was encouraging that a number of those arrested before the election had now been released and some pardoned.
She said, however, that many of those freed remained under judicial supervision, meaning the charges against them had not been dropped, and they remained at risk while awaiting trial.
Germany, Canada, New Zealand and other countries called on the authorities to provide the democratic space for the development of civil society, media and political opposition.
Australian filmmaker James Ricketson, 69, (pictured) was freed last Sunday when he received a royal pardon after being sentenced to six years behind bars following a conviction for espionage for flying a drone over a CNRP event.
Australian filmmaker James Ricketson being taken to prison while asking for which country he was supposed to have been spying. Picture credit: YouTube