Cambodia praised for efforts in handling issues amid Covid

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Cambodian ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva An Sokkhoeurn made the remarks during a UN debate attended by representatives from 27 States in Geneva, Switzerland, on Thursday. Photo supplied

Cambodian ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva An Sokkhoeurn said human rights anchor the government’s agenda, with a priority on maintaining peace, social stability and the wellbeing of the populace.

Sokkhoeurn made the remarks during a UN debate attended by representatives from 27 States in Geneva, Switzerland, on Thursday. During the meeting, Sokkhoeurn also took issue with Rhona Smith, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia.

“UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres stressed that we cannot pick and choose among human rights in the consideration of the human rights situation of a country.

“Regrettably, the Special Rapporteur’s annual report deviates from this approach due to its one-sided and excessive focus on civil and political rights with many positive developments left underreported,” he said.

Sokkhoeurn said the government has been openly and sincerely cooperating with Smith, with the 27 participating States welcoming Cambodia’s cooperation and engagement with the Special Rapporteur and UN human rights mechanisms.

In a press release published by the Permanent Mission of Cambodia in Geneva, 17 countries, including ASEAN member States, spoke in favour of Cambodia’s efforts and progress in promoting and protecting human rights.

They also praised Cambodia’s economic stimulus measures, social protection schemes and justice reform initiatives implemented to combat Covid-19.

The Permanent Mission said the other 10 countries noted certain positive steps in Cambodia’s political space and reform initiatives but expressed concerns over reports on the situation in Cambodia involving freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

“We are heartened by the wide recognition we heard from many States as to our national efforts and progress as well as encouragement for constructive ways forward,” Sokkhoeurn said.

He said the government maintains that freedom of expression does not equate to freedom to spread fake news, defame others and incite violence – things which are not condoned in the EU either.

“No State can guarantee the complete absence of human rights problems, including those in the EU. Humiliation, pressure and unilateral coercive measures are counter-productive, only leading to confrontation and polarisation,” said Sokkhoeurn.

He said as a country ratifying almost all core international human rights instruments, Cambodia remains steadfast in promoting human rights, sustainable development and the rule of law as well as upholding the country’s hard-earned peace that is cherished by Cambodians whose tragic past, he said, is known to all delegations in the room.

In the summary report by Guterres which will be presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, restrictions of the rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are also mentioned, including the arrest of individuals for controversial public comments and social media posts. Human rights issues in other countries will be presented as well.

In the report, Guterres calls upon the government to ensure that any extraordinary measures introduced to protect the health and wellbeing of the population during the Covid-19 pandemic are temporary, proportionate, strictly necessary for the prevention of the spread and treatment of the disease, non-discriminatory, and aligned with Cambodia’s international human rights obligations.