Ney Samol, the Permanent Representative of Cambodia to the UN Office in Geneva, has said that recent criticism of the Kingdom’s human rights, democracy and rule of law comes as no surprise.
This, he said, is because the UN does not apply the presumption of innocence until proven guilty principle to its assessment of the Cambodian government.
Ambassador Samol of the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the UN in Geneva, on Thursday, responded to concerns raised by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedoms of opinion and expression, David Kaye, and Rhona Smith, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia.
Kaye and Smith said on Wednesday that they were “concerned about the escalating trend of suppression by the Cambodian government of dissenting opinions in what appears to be an attempt to intimidate or silence political opinion”.
The pair said they were concerned over the use of criminal law to target free speech, including that which is online.
But Samol said it had often been observed that, in the eyes of the Special Rapporteurs, the Cambodian government was presumed guilty until proven innocent whenever it took action to enforce the law.
Even “a tiny action” from the government “operated as a shield and not a sword”, he said.
Samol said the Special Rapporteurs had alleged that the government intended to silence political opponents and restrict the right to freedom of expression online and offline when in fact the authorities were merely ensuring the rule of law.
“Article 19 states that freedom of expression has to be carried out with special responsibilities, taking into account the respect for the rights and reputation of others, national security and public order.
“Political rhetoric full of incitement, hatred and discrimination, violence, harassment, abuse, appealing for riots and calling for rebellion against the legitimately elected government is not the right to freedom of expression or opinion,” Samol said.
The Permanent Mission said it was of the view that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur was to assist the Cambodian government in promoting and protecting human rights, not to make statements that could be seen as interfering in the jurisdiction of a sovereign state.
“A Special Rapporteur is not a judge to decides who shall be indicted or acquitted,” Samol said.
Chak Sopheap, the executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said it was the duty of the Special Rapporteurs to Cambodia to speak out about the “numerous human rights violations occurring on a daily basis” in Cambodia.
“Rhona Smith has a responsibility to assess the state of human rights in the Kingdom, which has been continuously deteriorating over the past few years, and make it known to the government that Cambodia must promote and protect human rights,” she said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said Samol’s response was another instance of Cambodian officials’ “classic and routine reaction to dismiss negative statements on the situation in Cambodia and suppress the issues raised in them when they cannot find and correct errors in those statements”.