A senior North Korean diplomat has seized on the current dispute between the U.N.’s human rights office and Ministry of Foreign Affairs to blast the U.N. for its regular criticism of Cambodia’s woeful human rights record.
Hwang Chol, a deputy director in North Korea’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, rebuked the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Cambodia in an interview with the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
Reiterating a statement released by Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry earlier this month, he said the U.N.’s human rights body was violating the “principle of respect for sovereignty and non-interference in domestic affairs” in its work in Cambodia.
“Every year the U.N. raises the issue of human rights while violating the principle of fairness when discussing human rights and showing sympathy for hostile acts against sovereign states,” Mr. Hwang told the news agency on Thursday.
The local OHCHR office remains in a standoff with the government over its memorandum of understanding to operate in Cambodia, which expired nearly a year ago. The government is insisting that language is added about non-interference in national sovereignty, which the U.N. has said it is willing to include only as part of a broader recognition of the office’s mandate under the U.N. Charter.
After the U.N. Human Rights Council and the OHCHR’s country representative, Wan-Hea Lee, criticized the government’s decision to officially exile opposition leader Sam Rainsy, Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn lashed out at the local office in a letter on November 4.
“I have noted with deep regret that while the OHCHR has explicitly refused to mention the respect for sovereignty of Cambodia, its representative in Phnom Penh has continued interfering into the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Cambodia,” the letter said.
“In the absence of a valid Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the current operation and activities of the OHCHR in Cambodia, including those of its Country Representative, are not legitimate,” it said.
Chum Sounry, spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, has repeatedly declined to explain what “not legitimate” means in regards to the U.N.’s operations here.
Ms. Lee said earlier this week that she was dismayed with how her comments, sent in an email to The Cambodia Daily, had been written about in the media, but that the central issue was whether there were legitimate grounds for the government to deprive Mr. Rainsy, a Cambodian citizen, of his right to return to the country.
“I understand that the Government is unhappy with the way in which my response to questions about the compatibility of the entry ban on Mr. Sam Rainsy with human rights law has been transmitted in the media, which I also share,” she said in an email.
“At the heart of the matter is the fact that when restrictions are imposed on this or any other human right, the UN Human Rights Committee—and indeed, the Cambodian public—will expect an explanation, which Cambodia is obliged to provide through many well established reporting channels,” she added.
Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which issued the directives banning Mr. Rainsy’s return, has said the government has no obligation to explain its decision to the U.N. or anyone else.
Iniyan Ilango, U.N. advocacy manager for the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, said the government was resorting to a time-tested defense when hit with criticism about human rights violations.
“Interference into domestic affairs and sovereignty is a common argument often used by states to deflect legitimate criticism by the UN and other international actors,” Mr. Ilango wrote in an email. “It’s very concerning that if after delaying the MoU now the government is arguing that OHCHR cannot legitimately expresses concerns in the absence of the MoU.”
“At the last session of the UN Human Rights Council, faced with strong criticism, Cambodia made an explicit commitment to work with OHCHR,” he added. “If this is the current posturing of the government it would suggest that it has no intention of honouring this commitment or cooperating with the UN.”