The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the UN Office in Geneva deplored the statement of three UN special rapporteurs who claimed that Kem Sokha’s trial was “tainted” due to irregularities.
The reaction came in the wake of a statement released by Rhona Smith, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, along with David Kaye, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and Diego Garcia-Sayan, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.
It also came following the start of Kem Sokha’s treason hearing at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday and Thursday.
The ministry said the statement made by the UN experts was “politically motivated” and “totally intending to mislead the public as to the nature of the ongoing trial of the accused Kem Sokha”.
“As in the past, the Permanent Mission deeply regrets the professional misconduct of the said so-called experts, not being UN staff members and serving in their personal capacity, who self-represent as a judge in an internal judicial affair of a sovereign state,” said the ministry.
On Friday, the three UN special rapporteurs claimed the whole procedure from Sokha’s charge to the hearing was beset by irregularities and tainted, having not followed international human rights law and Cambodian law.
They claimed that Sokha was arrested without a warrant while he still had parliamentary immunity privileges.
He was also denied access to a lawyer in the early stages of his detention, and was ultimately held in pre-trial detention for a period that exceeded the maximum period permissible under Cambodian law, the three UN experts claimed.
“We have strong grounds to believe that the treason charge against Sokha is politically motivated and forms part of a larger pattern of the misapplication of laws to target political opponents and critics of the government.
“The experts repeat their call on the authorities to ensure justice for Sokha, remove immediately all restrictive bail conditions, reinstate his political rights, and ensure his enforceable right to compensation and other reparations,” their statement said, adding that the limitation of public access to Sokha’s hearing “puts in question the fairness of his trial”.
The ministry denied the claim that Sokha’s case was politically motivated. It said law-breakers could be charged and prosecuted based on offences they are alleged to have committed, not based on their political status.
“Being a political figure impunity. A crime committed cannot be justified by some personal or political motive.
“Kem Sokha’s charge is explicitly prescribed in Article 443 of the Cambodian Criminal Code, and all legal actions taken against him are in full conformity with relevant laws of the country, including its Constitution,” the ministry said.
It also clarified that Sokha had not been in pre-trial detention exceeding 18 months as allowed by law. He was released on bail and placed under the supervision of the court and was not put in house arrest as they claimed.
Concerning the limitation of public access to Sokha’s hearing, the ministry said the judges had the discretion to determine the number attending the hearing, based on available space.
Kin Phea, the director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia said Rhona Smith and other special rapporteurs – whom he called outsiders – had the right to have their comments heard on the case.
But their comment also represented interference in the court proceeding of an independent state, he said.
“The special rapporteur came to Cambodian just nine or 10 days out of 365 days in a year. To what extent can she cover the reality? This is what we should ask her.
“Their reports seem to have bias concerning human rights issues and the political situation in Cambodia.
“They should respect the sovereignty of a state,” Phea said.