UN Rights Envoy Says Current Political Climate Still ‘Tense’

The U.N.’s visiting human rights envoy to Cambodia called the current political climate “tense” after what she described as a wide-ranging discussion with Interior Minister Sar Kheng in Phnom Penh on Monday.

Rhona Smith, who is on her fourth fact-finding mission since taking up the unpaid envoy role in 2015, was asked for her take on the political climate by a reporter while leaving the meeting.

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UN human rights envoy to Cambodia Rhona Smith shakes hands with CNRP President Kem Sokha during their meeting in Phnom Penh on Monday, in this photograph posted to Mr Sokha’s Facebook page.

“I think the political climate remains tense and it will also depend on what happens moving forward for the National Assembly elections, and I hope they are conducted in a peaceful and fair fashion,” she said, without going into any details.

Rights groups have raised alarms about the increasingly belligerent language Prime Minister Hun Sen and other top government officials have been using against critics and would-be protesters ahead of next July’s national election. Similar language leading up to June’s commune elections were partly to blame for preventing the vote from being free and fair, said the groups. They have also blamed court cases widely seen as politically motivated against several rights workers and opposition figures.

The government has sought to downplay talk of political tensions and has accused elections observers critical of the commune poll of trying to spark a “color revolution.”

Without going into any specifics, Ms. Smith said she and the minister also discussed prison overcrowding, police training, the government’s latest anti-drug campaign and its regular roundup of drug users and beggars.

Ms. Smith, who met with CNRP president Kem Sokha earlier in the day, said she raised the opposition party’s concerns about voter registration and other election issues in her meeting with the interior minister as well.

Also speaking with reporters after the meeting, Interior Ministry secretary-general Por Pheak said the minister and envoy discussed Cambodia’s long-overdue treaty obligation to set up an independent committee to investigate allegations of torture by the state. He said the ministry had drafted a royal decree that would bring the committee into effect.

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