Kingdom rebuffs UN rapporteurs’ concerns on gov’t Covid-19 measures

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An Sokkhoeurn, the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the UN Office in Geneva. Facebook

The Permanent Mission of Cambodia to the UN in Geneva has said the Kingdom’s fight against Covid-19 had so far adhered to the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality and was therefore deeply disturbed by the recent press release from a group of UN special rapporteurs on human rights.

The UN officials – Rhona Smith, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia; Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Joseph Cannataci, special rapporteur on the right to privacy; Tlaleng Mofokeng, special rapporteur on the right to health – released their statement on April 12.

“We are concerned that the administrative and penal measures including excessive prison sentences and fines provided for in the law appear to be disproportionate and unwarranted. All measures taken to fight the pandemic, including possible punishments, should be necessary and proportionate and not be used excessively”, said the UN experts.

The Cambodian Permanent Mission said the special rapporteurs had taken their eyes off the bigger picture as to Cambodia’s race against the coronavirus and that the purported experts, who are not UN staff but serving in their individual capacities, always feel that things should have been done differently based on their personal opinions, but they suffer no liability for these ideas if their experiment fails.

“The people-elected government of Cambodia always takes full responsibility for its risk-based decision-making with clearly stated rules and criteria,” the Permanent Mission said.

In expressing their concerns, the UN rights officials cited a series of measures, including a travel ban and lockdowns of affected zones taken by the Cambodian government – measures the mission said had been lauded by the World Health Organisation in Cambodia.

The Permanent Mission added that all of those steps had adhered to the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality and saying that the concerns over the Law on the control of Covid-19 and other deadly contagious disease was based in prejudice and exaggerated.

The mission said the law does not aim to castigate but to encourage responsible participation by everyone in the pursuit of securing public health and saving precious lives. The punitive measures in proportion to their type of offense and the intent behind it only targeted the rule-breakers causing community transmission.

The mission continued that the call for the government’s provision of economic assistance disregards the fact that the government has put in place wide-ranging initiatives to address socio-economic impacts and to support the vulnerable groups to meet their basic needs.

Among those assistance programmes are monthly income support for job-suspended garment and tourism employees, cash transfer programmes to impoverished households, utilities aid to families hit by the pandemic and a suspension of all service cut-offs in lockdown areas, food supplies for lockdown areas and appeal to the microfinance sector for temporary payment relief.

The Permanent Mission of Cambodia said the Kingdom’s fight against Covid-19 had integrated human rights values and left no one behind and that only full and effective enforcement of all combined health, administrative and other measures would do the critical work of enforcing Cambodia’s lifesaving public health and safety measures to allow for an early return to normal life.

“The Special Rapporteurs have to recognise our priorities and play a responsible role in a manner that complements our efforts on the ground rather than detracts from the operations aimed at saving lives through the suppression of community transmission,” it said.