U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon telephoned Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn directly this week to raise his concerns about the government’s arrests and “harassment” of opposition lawmakers and others.
The rare phone call followed a U.N. statement about the current political situation in Cambodia that some had described as timid.
“The secretary-general expressed his concerns about reports of widespread intimidation, harassment and arrests of civil society actors, the media, staff and members of the National Election Commission, and members of the opposition,” the U.N. said in a statement about the Tuesday evening call.
It said Mr. Ban called for a return to the “culture of dialogue” that the ruling CPP and opposition CNRP forged in the wake of 2013’s bitterly disputed national election, and for the government to “ensure full respect for human rights, including the freedoms of expression, association and assembly.”
The CNRP is currently boycotting parliament in protest of the recent arrests of its lawmakers despite their legal immunity on charges widely seen as politically motivated.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry declined to discuss the call.
Tuesday’s call also followed a June 2 press conference in New York during which a spokesman for Mr. Ban said the secretary-general had stressed the need for even-handed courts in Cambodia.
Last month, some rights groups rebuked the U.N. for a similar statement it made a few days earlier. They urged the U.N. to take concrete measures on the ground in Cambodia to improve the situation.
Chak Sopheap, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said Tuesday’s phone call was a step forward.
“It is refreshing to see that Ban Ki-moon personally intervened,” she said in an email. “Interventions such as these serve to remind the government that the world is watching their actions and that their ‘honor and reputation’ are better served by respecting human rights rather than jailing their critics.”