36 Nations Criticize Government Over Rights Record

In a global censure of the CPP’s recent arrest and intimidation of the political opposition and other critics, 36 countries backed a statement on Wednesday urging the government to respect human rights “including the freedoms of expression, association and assembly.”

Presented during the ongoing 33rd U.N. Human Rights Council session in Geneva, the statement—supported by the 28 E.U. member states and the U.S., as well as Albania, Australia, Canada, Japan, Macedonia, Norway and Switzerland—called on the ruling party to de-escalate political tensions and respect the rule of law.

“We are deeply concerned about the current escalation of political tensions in Cambodia, which threatens legitimate activities by opposition parties and human rights NGOs,” said the statement delivered by Keith Harper, the U.S. representative to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The statement cited the deterioration of the 2014 political agreement for a “culture of dialogue” between the CPP and CNRP, recent legal action being “disproportionately pursued against critics of the government,” as well as new impediments to “freedom of expression, assembly and association.”

The countries also noted the “chilling effect” that the July 10 murder of political analyst Kem Ley had on government critics and called for a transparent investigation into his death.

“More broadly, we call on all the relevant stakeholders to work toward de-escalating the tensions and building trust and confidence” ahead of upcoming elections, the statement said. Following the council presentation, Bosnia, Liech­­tenstein and Ukraine also backed the statement.

The CPP has repeatedly dismissed the claims of human rights abuses and blamed the opposition for turmoil. It has aggressively pursued legal action against opposition leaders, arrested activists and sent the military to the streets in a show of force around the CNRP’s headquarters in Phnom Penh.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said on Wednesday that the joint statement was misguided and would carry little weight in Phnom Penh.

The global community “is not comprised of 36 countries; we’ve got more than that,” he said. “We appreciate it for their concern, but this concern is not what is happening on the ground. It’s not accurate.”

External intervention would only increase friction, he said, citing as an example the international perspective on the need to invade Iraq more than a decade ago. In ensuing years, the country has been ravaged by war and the spread of the Islamic State militant group.

“Make a good decision,” he said. “Just leave Cambodia to enjoy our peace.”

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