North Korea Condemns UN’s Criticism of Cambodia

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.”

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