U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern over the fractious political situation in Cambodia on Sunday, in a two-sentence statement issued through his press office that rights activists on Monday blasted for its timidity and brevity.
“The Secretary-General [Ban Ki-moon] is concerned about the escalating tensions between the ruling and opposition parties in Cambodia, particularly arrests or attempted arrests,” U.N. spokeswoman Devi Palanivelu said.
“A non-threatening environment of democratic dialogue is essential for political stability and a peaceful and prosperous society.”
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, condemned the passivity of the statement—released amid a legal assault on government critics that has seen rights workers and opposition figures jailed, and even a U.N. official charged.
“It’s truly stunning that the UN fails to publicly state the obvious—which is [that] the CPP is the sole aggressor here,” he said in an email.
“When the government goes after the opposition leader with legal hooks and tongs as PM Hun Sen is doing, the UN should dispense with diplomatic politeness and forcefully demand the Cambodia[n] government cease this campaign of politically motivated persecution.”
Mr. Robertson added that while the U.N. had the ability to influence the political agenda, it would not be able to do so without articulating a stronger stance.
“Everyone supports ‘a non-threatening environment of democratic dialogue,’ but what is the UN country team in Phnom Penh actually doing to bring that about?”
Chak Sopheap, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the statement was effectively worthless.
“[S]uch a non-committal expression of concern by the Secretary General will not be enough to seriously change anything on the ground in Cambodia,” she wrote.
“Much more concrete action is required in this time of crisis,” she said, adding that signatories to the 1991 Paris Peace Accord needed to step up.
“Firm, public and principled commitments to Cambodian democracy must be expressed by international signatories, as well as relevant UN bodies and experts, as soon as possible.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, however, said the U.N. statement was unfair in placing too much blame on the government for the current tumult.
“They have a right to worry about Cambodia,” he said. “But they have to understand the cause of this problem. I wish the U.N. [would] help everyone in Cambodia to respect the rule of law and fight against impunity.”