PM Tells Rights Envoy to Focus on Racism

Prime Minister Hun Sen met Monday with Rhona Smith, the U.N.’s new special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, asking the envoy to focus her efforts on racial discrimination, a spokesman for the prime minister said.

After the one-hour meeting at Mr. Hun Sen’s office building in Phnom Penh, Eang Sophalleth, the prime minister’s personal assistant, said the two had discussed Ms. Smith’s role and how the government and special rapporteur could work together to address the country’s human rights situation.

UN rights envoy Rhona Smith and Prime Minister Hun Sen shake hands at Mr Hun Sen's office building in Phnom Penh on Monday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
UN rights envoy Rhona Smith and Prime Minister Hun Sen shake hands at Mr Hun Sen’s office building in Phnom Penh on Monday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Mr. Sophalleth said that in the meeting, Mr. Hun Sen had described human rights as “the right for living, the right for studying and the right to receive food” and singled out racism as a problem that Ms. Smith should address.

“In particular, Samdech asked her to review racial discrimination in Cambodia,” Mr. Sophalleth said.

Although he did not elaborate, rights groups and government officials have frequently criticized the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party for party leaders’ use of racially charged rhetoric against Vietnamese people. The previous special rapporteur to Cambodia, Surya Subedi, said in a report last year that he was “alarmed” by some of this language.

However, opposition leader Sam Rainsy said that Mr. Hun Sen’s focus on racial discrimination was a tactic meant to distract.

“There are provisions in the law to prevent and punish any form of racial discrimination,” Mr. Rainsy said.

“Maybe he wants to divert attention from other pressing issues that have been raised following the crackdown, following the repression, following what we have seen recently.”

In July, 11 CNRP activists were convicted and sentenced to between seven and 20 years in prison on insurrection charges, while opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour was arrested in August on charges of forgery and incitement for presenting a fake diplomatic treaty in a video posted on Facebook.

Mr. Rainsy said he had yet to hear from Ms. Smith’s office whether he would have the opportunity to meet with the special rapporteur, but that if he did he would focus on freedom of expression.

Ms. Smith is currently on her first visit to Cambodia since she was approved as the latest U.N. rights envoy in March. Her nine-day trip ends Thursday.

Olga Nakajo, assistant to the special rapporteur, said that Ms. Smith raised many issues with Mr. Hun Sen on Monday, including freedom of expression, economic land concessions and the role of education and health in promoting human rights.

She added that Ms. Smith was due to meet with a number of other government officials this week including Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana.

The special rapporteur is scheduled to report on the country’s human rights situation to the 30th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council later this month.

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