Government Denounces UN Over Rights Statement

The government’s representative to the U.N. lashed out on Friday at a U.N. statement expressing concern about an “escalating atmosphere of intimidation” in Cambodia.

Cambodia’s Permanent Mission in Geneva criticized the Tuesday release by Ravina Shamda­sani, spokes­woman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which urged the government to support freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

“We are very concerned about the escalating atmosphere of intimidation of opposition politicians, their supporters, civil society, and peaceful demonstrations in Cambodia,” the OHCHR statement said.

“Over the past few days, a strong show of force was conducted by the armed forces at the headquarters of the main opposition party,” it said. “This, combined with an increase in rhetoric by high-level army officials, who have vowed to defend the ruling party against political opposition, is deeply worrying.”

The OHCHR also commented on the treatment of opposition leader Kem Sokha, who was sentenced to five months in prison on Friday for failing to appear in court over another case. “The weak evidentiary basis of the charges and the accompanying procedural flaws raise serious concerns about the fairness of the proceedings.”

In response, the Permanent Mission decried the comments as inappropriate and outside the OHCHR’s purview.

“The substance of the matters raised is strictly domestic in nature and as a sovereign state whose duty is to respond to its domestic constituency, Cambodia can neither accept such discredit of a legitimate government nor receive any order of judgment from any foreign entity in regard to our judiciary and the conduct of government affairs,” it said a statement on Friday.

The statement also said the OHCHR’s criticism was contradicted by a Tuesday meeting between U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Prime Minister Hun Sen on the sidelines of the Asean Summit in Vientiane, but offered no evidence of how it did so.

An annual assessment of Cambodia by the U.N. Human Rights Council will be held next week in Geneva. The OHCHR is expected to report on Tuesday about its work in Cambodia and the state of human rights in the country.

Rhona Smith, the U.N.’s special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, is expected to “analyze and condemn the ongoing crackdown on civil society and human rights defenders, harassment of opposition members and supporters, and instances of political violence, as well as formulate recommendations in this regard,” Nicolas Agostini, the Geneva-based representative to the U.N. for the International Federation for Human Rights, said on Thursday.

The government’s treatment of the opposition CNRP in the run-up to commune elections next year and a general election in 2018 has been of particular concern to international rights groups.

The OHCHR, in Tuesday’s release, noted that the government has blocked peaceful protests and arrested demonstrators, and set up roadblocks and mobilized troops to block CNRP lawmakers from delivering petitions to foreign embassies.

In its response on Friday, the Permanent Mission said Cambodian authorities had made “consistent and utmost efforts” to ensure free and fair elections.

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