Gov’t slams OHCHR over UNSG’s report

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UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith.

The Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the UN in Geneva expressed its disapproval with a social media post published on Tuesday by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Phnom Penh, saying the post used quotes from a UN Secretary-General (UNSG) report out of context.

In the report, Cambodian police officers are accused of intimidating and retaliating against NGOs at events by arriving uninvited, taking lists of participants’ names, taking pictures and making inquiries about the NGOs’ agendas and the people involved.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the Cambodian Mission said the UNSG report relied extensively on one-sided and unverified narratives of UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith.

The Mission said the Cambodian government always takes any claim brought before it seriously. As an example, it noted its timely clarifications to the UNSG report, which were published in Annex I (paragraph 19, page 23) of the report.

The Mission said the sincerity and motivation of the OHCHR should be questioned because the quotes used in its social media post were taken out of context and made no mention of the government’s responses.

This act will undermine the credibility, integrity and independence of the OHCHR, it said.

“The assertion that those cooperating with the UN human rights mechanisms are intimidated or retaliated against is an exaggeration. Like other countries, the presence of police officers in the vicinity of various events should not be construed as a threat, intimidation or disruption. They simply fulfil their duty to prevent any arising chaos or insecurity,” the statement read.

The Mission reiterated the government’s commitment to addressing any arising challenges of civil society organisations (CSOs) through national and sub-national mechanisms, including regular partnership forums.

The UNSG report said Smith described incidents where the police would appear uninvited at events, trainings or meetings. They would then take photographs and inquire about the event’s organisers and its agenda. Police would also ask for a list of names of participants and CSO representatives.

In the report, UN member states are encouraged to publicly express unequivocal support for the right of people to unhindered access to and communication with international bodies. The UNSG also called on member states to raise awareness among civil servants and other State actors on reprisals and intimidation by providing training and issuing internal guidance.

Theng Savoeun, the director of the NGO Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC), told The Post on Thursday that before levelling criticism, the UNSG always researches the matter to ascertain if the criticisms are correct. He said the report was based on standard documents stipulated in the UN.

He said: “According to the situation in the past and the mention [of Cambodia] by the UN secretary-general, I see that it [the report] is correct. Hence, for [Cambodia] not to be mentioned or reported, I want the minister of interior to advise all officials to adhere consistently to international legal standards as well as Cambodian laws. Otherwise, repeated mentions will still be made. It gives Cambodia a bad reputation on the international stage.”