Mak Sambath, deputy chairman of the government’s Human Rights Committee, came under fire Monday from activists who accused him of lying to the U.N. in Geneva regarding land issues and the displacement of affected people.
The criticism of Mr. Sambath’s report to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council last week came at a cursing ceremony held in Boeng Kak and attended by about 50 activists from the Borei Keila and Boeng Kak communities.
Mr. Sambath—who led the Cambodian delegation for last week’s periodic review of Cambodia’s human rights situation—told the Council that in cases when the government was unable to solve disputes, the villagers were to blame for inflating their numbers in order to be granted more land.
“We speak like this, because Mr. Mak Sambath dared to mention land issues that the authorities and government could not solve, by claiming that…in one location, first there were 500 people when the authorities went to measure the land, then saying that the number of people increased to 1,000…then that it reached 1,500 people,” reads a statement released by the activists at the event.
While Mr. Sambath tried to sell the Council an image of a principled government that gives adequate compensation and provides resettlement, “what is the reality for Boeng Kak lake, Borei Keila, Phnom Bath, Dey Krahom, Sambok Chap…and other provinces in Cambodia?” the statement continues.
“We regret that Mok Sambath accused us and twisted things to the international community,” said leading Boeng Kak activist Tep Vanny, who was also in Geneva last week to highlight Cambodian land issues in tandem with the hearing.
“The authorities arrested us and put us behind the bars; we cannot even protect our land, so how could we inflate the number of the people?” she asked.
After addressing the press, the activists threw paper and rice into a fire and cursed Mr. Sambath for “insulting” his own people.
“How shameful he is—he not only lied on his own, but also lied internationally—and we have suffered because he has done this,” Ms. Vanny said.
Reached by telephone, Mr. Sambath stuck by his statements to the U.N.
“I have already spoken to the U.N.—we have shown it clearly there,” he said. “We reported about the human rights our government has achieved.”
He added that the activists were welcome to curse him. “This shows the right of freedom of expression in Cambodia.”
During the UPR, Germany, Austria and France were among the countries that recommended that the government strengthen and make more transparent its dealings with land issues.
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