Nigeria and Belarus on Tuesday became the latest countries to throw their support behind Cambodia’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council—the vote for which takes place in less than two weeks.
For months, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has claimed the backing of about 100 nations, which would give Cambodia the necessary majority in the U.N. General Assembly to win the October 18 ballot.
Cambodia is up against Bhutan and South Korea for the Asian seat. So far, Cambodia has announced the public backing of all nine Asean nations, Iran, Lebanon, The Republic of Congo, Cuba, China, Brazil, Spain, Mexico, Uruguay and Chile. The ambassadors of Nigeria and Belarus both pledged their support when they visited Cambodia earlier this week.
But renewed criticism of the country’s human rights situation could yet sway the vote in the race to the Security Council seat.
In a statement late last month, the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said “Cambodia’s human rights record should also be scrutinized as a candidate for a non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.”
“The U.N. Charter urges the General Assembly to consider candidates’ contribution ‘to the maintenance of international peace…[and] respect for human rights,’” the group said in a statement, while FDIH President Souhayr Belhassen said that Cambodia was in a “poor position to contribute to international peace.”
This week, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as the U.S. State Department, France and the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, issued statements denouncing the sentencing of independent radio station owner Mam Sonando to 20 years in jail. Last month, U.N. human rights envoy Surya Subedi delivered two reports critical of both Cambodia’s human rights record and economic land concessions.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, yesterday denied that the verdict or other criticism of human rights could stymie Cambodia’s chances, drawing a line between home affairs and international diplomacy.
“The issues in the U.N. Security Council are global, but issues in Cambodia shall not be interfered with by anyone; we’re a sovereign state,” Mr. Siphan said. “The Mam Sonando issue is a local issue.”
Compared to some other countries, which he alluded to but declined to name, Cambodia had a good human rights record, Mr. Siphan said, adding that a blemish-free human rights record was not essential criteria to get a U.N. Security Council seat.
“We don’t deserve to be condemned. Cambodian human rights—compared to other states, we’re committed” to them, he said. “A candidacy for a nation to deserve a seat there [the Security Council], human rights is not a priority; peace and stability is,” he added.
Opposition SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann disagreed, however.
“This [Sonando case], is a human rights violation and I think the U.N. will take note.”
Chea Vannath, an independent political analyst, said human rights were just one measure of a country.
“Maybe most countries at the U.N. might not pay too much attention,” Ms. Vannath said, adding that in the world of realpolitik, good economic relations counted for a lot, and rights abuses occurred in many countries.
“Even though the USA and China don’t agree on human rights issues in China, still the United States continues to have a good diplomatic relationship” with Beijing, she observed.
Asked whether the U.S. would take the Sonando case into account in their vote, Sean McIntosh, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, said: “U.S. policy is not to reveal its vote for such secret ballot elections. We value Cambodia’s membership in the United Nations.”