UN Envoy Says Rights Not Threat to Sovereignty

As the ruling CPP has faced global condemnation over what is widely seen as an escalating campaign to imprison and intimidate its critics, government officials in recent months have often called for foreign countries to respect Cambodia’s sovereign affairs.

Leaving a meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn in Phnom Penh on Monday, the U.N.’s human rights envoy, Rhona Smith, appeared to reject the notion that foreign donors were interfering in Cambodia’s affairs by raising human rights concerns.

Rhona Smith, the UN’s human rights envoy to Cambodia, speaks with Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn in Phnom Penh on Monday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Rhona Smith, the UN’s human rights envoy to Cambodia, speaks with Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn in Phnom Penh on Monday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Asked what was discussed in the closed-door meeting, Ms. Smith told reporters that she and Mr. Sokhonn spoke about her role and human rights as it relates to the law.

“And the fact that there is no conflict between respecting international human rights standards and also maintaining respect for the sovereignty of Cambodia,” she said, declining to answer further questions.

During her current trip—her third since stepping into the role—Ms. Smith has mostly let government officials do the talking after her meetings. She has said, however, that the human rights situation has only worsened with each successive trip.

Delivering a report to a U.N. Human Rights Council session last month, she said of the present political tension in Cambodia: “The seriousness of this situation cannot be underestimated.”

Responding to the harsh critique delivered by Ms. Smith and dozens of countries at the council, Ney Sam Ol, Cambodia’s representative to the U.N., said the criticism was not welcome.

“We are negotiating to continue the MoU with the UNOHCHR, but we do not welcome interference in our political situation,” he said.

The government is currently refusing to renew its memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) unless new language is added about non-interference.

Wan-Hea Lee, the country representative for the UNOHCHR in Cambodia, said the MoU was raised on Monday but deferred.

“As this was a meeting between the Special Rapporteur, not OHCHR, and the Minister, it was agreed that the MOU should be pursued separately with OHCHR,” Ms. Lee said via email.

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