Cambodia: weak words on strongman rule

Why bother send a UN special rapporteur to the country if the democratic backsliding is all but ignored?

Following her latest visit to Cambodia, United Nations special rapporteur Rhona Smith this month issued what is a customary statement. The wording wasn’t particularly strong – she praised certain developments in the country while condemning other setbacks – but it was in line with previous comments she has made over the years. The problem is that Cambodia’s political situation has drastically changed in recent times, while Smith’s rhetoric has remained the same.

Cambodia once had a thriving opposition party that won more than three million votes in the 2013 national election and 2017 local elections. That party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, was dissolved prior to the 2018 national election. Its leader Kem Sokha is under house arrest, other party elites have fled the country, and grassroots supporters are subjected to legal harassment and violence.

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