A senior Ministry of Justice official held a virtual meeting with UN special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia Vitit Muntarbhorn on March 21 to discuss the legal situation regarding human rights and the modernisation of the laws in the Kingdom.
Ministry secretary of state Chin Malin and Vitit exchanged their views regarding enforcement of Cambodia’s laws in the context of international human rights standards, open civic space, basic freedoms and politics in the country.
Malin told The Post after the meeting that he attended it on behalf of justice minister Koeut Rith.
The meeting was also attended by Cambodia’s UN ambassador An Sokkhoeurn and Claudia de la Fuente, country representative of the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) in Cambodia.
According to Malin, the nearly two-hour meeting touched on five aspects of human rights: Law modernisation in Cambodia; prison overcrowding; defendants’ rights in criminal prosecutions; mediation of conflicts outside of the courts; and maintaining an open space in Cambodian society for civic engagement and political freedoms, particularly law enforcement actions undertaken against some politicians and other parties.
“The discussion was held in a constructive and friendly manner because [Vitit] is a researcher and an expert. We had similar ideas on some topics and we differed on some others, with the discussion touching on democracy, opening up free civic space and law enforcement,” he said.
According to Malin, Vitit raised examples of court cases against politicians which he viewed as restrictions on the rights and freedoms of those individuals.
“I think he may have received information that was not a reflection of the true situation in Cambodia. We explained the situation to him and provided more information as well as some details on Cambodian legal procedures and some legal perspectives specifically applicable to Cambodia,” he added.
Malin said he explained that Cambodia did not see these law enforcement actions as restrictions or violations of anyone’s rights, but merely the routine functioning of the rule of law in Cambodian society.
He said he told the rapporteur that human rights experts could not accurately judge the situation based on the image of Cambodia as portrayed from the outside or through the reports of certain civil society organisations (CSOs).
He said enforcement of the nation’s laws in connection to any individual – especially activists or politicians – should not be seen as a violation of their rights and freedoms because Cambodian law is applied equally to everyone and is based solely on the laws that are in place and the rules as they are written.
Malin said that at the meeting, he argued against any claims that freedoms or democratic space in Cambodia are shrinking as argued by critics. He said Cambodia is still an open society for everyone except a small group of people who are carrying out activities that are against the law for the benefit of their own political agendas or factions, and that the authorities only acted when there was clear evidence of criminal behaviour.
“Through this meeting we saw that the special rapporteur seemed to accept our explanations regarding some topics, while on some others we still have differing views, but the dialogue was carried out in a constructive manner,” he said.
Cambodian Institute for Democracy president Pa Chanroeun said the meeting between Cambodia’s justice ministry representatives and the UN human rights expert encouraged mutual understanding between both sides regarding the human rights situation in Cambodia, especially fundamental freedoms, political rights and space for NGOs and CSOs to operate.
“[That space] is under threat and restriction. It isn’t unusual to have some points which are agreed upon while others are not and having the opportunity to meet with each other gave the special rapporteur a better understanding of the government’s positions and their rationale for what they do regarding human rights issues,” he said.