Following global condemnation of the Cambodian government at the U.N. Human Rights Council last week, rights groups sent a message to the ruling party on Tuesday that the world would not “turn a blind eye” to its efforts to stifle the opposition and other critics.
The statement, signed by seven local and international rights organizations, highlights the widespread criticism of the government during the 32nd session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which concluded on Friday in Geneva.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, right, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights, meets with Maina Kiai, the UN’s special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, in Geneva on June 14, in a photograph posted to Mr Kiai’s Flickr feed. “Statements at the Human Rights Council show that the world is not going to turn a blind eye as the Cambodian government blatantly abuses its legal system and judiciary to silence independent voices and civil society,” it said.
The statement cites heavy criticism from the U.S., U.K. and E.U., along with comments from the U.N.’s high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who noted a “drastic and deplorable narrowing” of Cambodia’s democratic space in his opening address to the council on June 13.
It also noted concerns from Japan, the main sponsor of the Human Rights Council resolution on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, which has historically shown itself to be more reserved than Western governments in its criticism of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.
Japan voiced its concern over “the current escalation of political tensions in Cambodia, which have resulted in considerable narrowing of space for legitimate and normal activities by opposition parties and civil society organizations,” according to the statement.
Keo Remy, head of the government’s human rights committee, hung up on a reporter on Tuesday. During the session in Geneva, Ney Samol, Cambodia’s permanent representative to the U.N., said the government “unequivocally adheres to rules of law, human rights and democracy.”
Carl Thayer, a Southeast Asia expert at the Australian Defense Force Academy, said Mr. Hun Sen would likely continue to shrug off criticism until making the necessary moves to appease foreign donors as local elections approach next year.
“Cambodia’s external critics are looking at ending the domestic impasse by getting Sam Rainsy back to Cambodia with a pardon and for the CPP to let up its attacks on the opposition so the 2017 commune elections are free and fair,” he said.
“At the moment we are seeing a test of political wills. Hun Sen plays this game well and when the moment is ripe he will make just the right concessions to prevent the invocation of sanctions against his government.”
Political analyst Kem Ley said he also believed the government would eventually make the necessary concessions to avoid foreign aid cuts, which have already been proposed by the European Parliament and U.S. Senate.
“The Cambodian government in the last 20 years, I think they are clever enough to respond to those questions or statements,” he said.
“They need more time to save their face before taking any action by following the statement,” he added. “If not, I can say maybe they are killing themselves.”
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