Cambodia was one of 58 countries to abstain from the vote to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council on April 7, where 93 countries voted in favour and 24 voted against.
Of the ASEAN nations, Cambodia was joined by Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. The Philippines and the Myanmar government-in-exile, the National Unity Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, voted in favour of Russia’s suspension, while Laos and Vietnam voted against.
The UN said the vote was called after disturbing images emerged from the city of Bucha – located in the region surrounding the Ukrainian capital Kyiv – last weekend, in which hundreds of bodies of civilians were pictured lying on the streets and in mass graves following Russia’s withdrawal from the area.
Addressing the Human Rights Council from the UN Headquarters in New York, Cambodian ambassador to the UN Ke Sovann said the suspension of Russia from the council will not help resolve the conflict, but will instead “trigger and intensify” the situation.
“After a fragile time for world peace, security and stability, the engagement of all member states of all relevant UN bodies – including the Human Rights Council – is very important.
“Resolution of the conflict in Ukraine must be based on the UN Charter and International Law. Creating a conducive environment for diplomatic engagement and negotiation by the concerned parties is the right path to focus on to end the tremendous human suffering and achieving a sustainable, peaceful solution in Ukraine,” he said.
He said that at this moment, all countries should work in solidarity rather than “creating mistrust and division” among the UN membership.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said at the outset of Russia’s “invasion” that Cambodia is against the military action and that it will always be against the use of force, or the threat of force, by powerful countries against weaker ones.
Consisting of 47 members and based in Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council admitted Russia in January 2021.
The Foreign Ministers of ASEAN jointly offered their condolences to bereaved families in Ukraine following the reported killing of over 50 civilians, including a number of children, who were sheltering in a train station.
“We support the call of the UN Secretary-General for an independent investigation of all alleged atrocities against innocent civilians, including in Bucha, to avoid a repeat and to honour justice,” said the joint press statement issued by the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on April 8.
The ASEAN foreign ministers also emphasised the “critical importance” of humanitarian corridors to allow the safe delivery of humanitarian aid into Ukraine, and reiterated their calls for an immediate ceasefire or armistice, and the continuation of a comprehensive political dialogue that would lead to “sustainable” peace in Ukraine.
“We unequivocally call for the utmost efforts by all parties and the international community to cease and desist the aggravation of fighting, and will expand our maximum endeavour on ending and not expanding the conflict that will lead to nothing but the extension of bloodshed,” the statement said.
Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said Cambodia’s abstention on the vote to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council was a right decision which “reflects the reality of what is happening” in Ukraine, which he said had not been independently investigated.
He noted that the position does not offer Cambodia any political benefit from Russia or the Western world.
“This position is correct and is different from the previous votes that Cambodia had made. Previously, Cambodia voted against the war and invasion by one country of another country. But this time, looking at the justification for suspending Russia from the UN Human Rights Council, it seems a bit politically motivated as there is still no investigation that has been independently carried out,” he said.
Phea added that, as long as there is no investigation, it cannot be proved that the crimes, especially those alleged to have taken place in Bucha, were committed by Russian forces, and it remains possible that Russia is being made a scapegoat.