UN Deal in Limbo as Government Rebukes Criticism

Responding to a harsh critique of the government issued by 36 countries during the U.N. Human Rights Council session this week, Cambodia’s ambassador to Geneva appeared to threaten to end the country’s cooperation with the U.N.’s human rights body.

After rebuking the statement calling for the government to end its legal harassment of the opposition, Ney Sam Ol, Cambodia’s ambassador to the U.N., noted that a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) remained in limbo.

“Of course, we want to have an open dialogue with all partners. But a dialogue based on mutual respect,” he told the council on Wednesday, according to a transcript of his comments. “We are negotiating to continue the MoU with the UNOHCHR, but we do not welcome interference in our political situation.”

Mr. Sam Ol said that international concern over the human rights situation in Cambodia was unwarranted.

“Some political parties and entities, merely for the sake of their political benefit, blatantly manipulate, incite and dramatize the current situation including stirring instability in Cambodia,” he said. “Political parties or entities should not hide under Human Rights’ umbrella to extort or hijack public order, tranquility and the harmonization of the society for their ill political gain.”

International calls for the government to drop charges against opposition officials and human rights activists are “blatantly against the fundamental principle of the rule of law and democracy,” he added.

Mr. Sam Ol’s comments came a day after 36 countries issued a joint statement decrying escalating political tension and the suppression of free “expression, association and assembly.”

Wan-Hea Lee, the UNOHCHR’s representative in Cambodia, acknowledged that the office’s agreement with the government “remains to be renewed,” but said it was the body’s responsibility to promote “better compliance with human rights standards.”

“Our relationship with the government must be based on mutual respect both for national sovereignty and for our human rights mandate,” she said. “I am certain that the government fully understands the nature of our work, both globally and locally.”

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