Declining Rights Focus of UN Envoy Visit

The U.N.’s human rights envoy to Cambodia will arrive for her third fact-finding mission on Monday, weeks after addressing an annual U.N. Human Rights Council session where she warned of a deteriorating rights situation ahead of next year’s commune elections.

The U.N.’s local human rights office is currently operating without an agreement with the government due to divergent positions on wording that would prevent the U.N. from “interfering” in Cambodia’s affairs.

In a statement on Friday, the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said special rapporteur Rhona Smith would focus her 10-day visit on the current human rights situation, and follow up on previous recommendations to the government.

“I aim to continue my examination of the theme of discrimination, with a focus this time on assessing the rights of ethnic minorities and marginalised groups,” Ms. Smith said in the statement.

In April, Ms. Smith concluded her second visit to the country with a press conference where she warned the country was at a “dangerous tipping point” in light of mounting political tension and the government’s declining regard for human rights. Addressing the Human Rights Council last month, she said the situation had only worsened.

Since her previous visit, popular political analyst Kem Ley was gunned down at a convenience store, deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha was sentenced to five months in prison, numerous rights activists were jailed and Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened to “eliminate” opponents amid threats of mass anti-government demonstrations.

In her address to the council, Ms. Smith said “there has undoubtedly been further escalation” in the government’s suppression of human rights, comments that drew a strong rebuke from Cambodia’s ambassador to Geneva, Ney Samol, who said they were part of efforts to “embarrass” the government, which did not appreciate being told what to do.

Ou Virak, a political analyst and head of the Future Forum think tank, said that while the government did not like being scrutinized, it understood the value of continuing its cooperation with the U.N., even if it led to a critical assessment.

“The question is how they are going to deal with their uncomfortable relationship,” he said. “Usually they try to be cordial in the hope that it will lessen the criticism, but it’s never worked in the past.”

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