The U.N.’s human rights office on Monday said that the government needed to immediately explain its decision to ban opposition leader Sam Rainsy from entering the country, but predicted the explanation would be unsatisfactory.
Sok Phal, the Interior Ministry’s immigration chief, issued a directive on October 18 calling on his officials to use whatever means necessary to prevent Mr. Rainsy from entering the country through international airports or border checkpoints.
“No elements of the decision to block the entry of Mr. Sam Rainsy into Cambodia have been brought to light that would allow anyone to assess its reasonableness, which renders the decision unjustified and arbitrary,” said Wan-Hea Lee, country representative for the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in an email.
“The decision needs to be urgently explained—although the chances for any explanation to be considered acceptable by the U.N. Human Rights Committee are slim—or reversed,” she added.
In separate comments emailed by a spokeswoman, the Human Rights Committee noted that the directive contravened provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cambodia is a signatory.
“‘In no case may a person be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his or her own country’; in other words, certain restrictions are permissible but they should be, in any event, reasonable in the particular circumstances and they must not be imposed arbitrarily,” it said.
“The Committee considers that there are few, if any, circumstances in which deprivation of the right to enter one’s own country could be reasonable.”
Cambodia’s Constitution also protects the right of citizens to come back home.
“Citizens’ freedom to travel, far and near, and legal settlement shall be respected. Khmer citizens shall have the right to travel and settle abroad and return to the country,” it states.
Neither government spokesman Phay Siphan nor Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could be reached on Monday. General Phal declined to comment.
Ruling party spokesman Sok Eysan said on Sunday that Mr. Rainsy was exiled because his return would threaten peace, stability and safety—and likely cause bloodshed and destruction.
For his part, Mr. Rainsy has vowed to return before the 2018 national elections despite the ban. But in a sign of disunity within his party, a senior opposition official said the directive gave the leader an excuse to remain abroad and avoid arrest in Cambodia, as he had already done for almost a year.
Kem Monovithya, a member of the CNRP’s standing committee and its deputy director of public affairs, posted the comments to Twitter, where she has been highly critical of the opposition leader over the past week.
Mr. Rainsy decided not to return to Cambodia while traveling abroad last November, when an arrest warrant was issued for a years-old defamation conviction that carried a two-year prison sentence.
“A year later now he can officially claim to be exiled and has legitimate reason to remain abroad. Govt would call this win-win. Cpp:1, SR:1.,” Ms. Monovithya tweeted—referring to Mr. Rainsy as “SR”—in response to the news that the government had officially banned his return.
“Govt successfully keeps SR abroad by giving an excuse, goal all along. SR had a year before the ‘ban,’” she wrote in another tweet.
Ms. Monovithya was previously joined by her father, deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha, in publicly advocating for Mr. Rainsy to return and force the government to face the backlash of arresting him, or back down from their threats to do so.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann dismissed Ms. Monovithya’s latest comments.
“We no more pay to attention to what she says,” he said. “I am officially appointed as the party spokesman and I am the one who speaks to the media.”
© 2016, Colin Meyn. All rights reserved.