Human Rights questions Cambodia over harassment of activists

THE United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNHCR) has hit out at Cambodia for the harassment of some 100 activists and detention of more than 20.

During the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland on Monday, Commissioner Michelle Bachelet questioned Cambodian authorities’ continued pressure on members and supporters of the main opposition party which was dissolved at the end of 2017.

“Since the start of this year, police or the courts have questioned over 130 people, and at least 22 opposition members or supporters are currently in detention, on a range of criminal charges or convictions either directly or indirectly related to their political opinion,” she said.

“The right to development needs to rest on participation by everyone in decision-making – including people who offer critical views; and I encourage the Government to take steps to ensure genuine dialogue and respect for fundamental freedoms,” she added.

To recall, Cambodian police in September 2017 apprehended Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Kem Sokha, allegedly for the party’s role in a plot to unseat the current administration.

Two months later, Cambodia’s Supreme Court also moved to dissolve CNRP and banned 118 of its officials from politics.

The moves were part of a wider crackdown on the political opposition, non-government organizations, and the independent media that paved the way for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament during the July 2018 general election.

This made the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) member effectively a one-party state.

In response, Ministry of Justice spokesperson and vice president of Cambodia’s National Committee for Human Rights Chin Malin dismissed the commissioner’s statements, saying it is just normal for a human rights advocate to make statements, taking different views into account.

“[Bachelet] must express the concerns raised by some civil society organizations, who always raise criticisms against the government because of political agendas,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“Yet she has also acknowledged the efforts and progress made by the government during recent meetings with our foreign minister and the prime minister,” he was quoted as saying.

Malin said that the Cambodian government, despite being criticized, will continue to work with the UNCHR and other UN agencise to explain their position.

Since the start of the year, a total of 147 CNRP members have been called for questioning.

Human Rights Watch, a right monitoring group, has demanded for the immediate release of the arrested members.