The United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith met yesterday with Interior Minister Sar Kheng and opposition leader Kem Sokha, telling reporters they had discussed issues ranging from prison overcrowding to free assembly and elections.
Smith, a Scottish academic who was appointed as the rapporteur in March 2015, is in Cambodia on a 10-day mission due to wrap up Friday, and will next month make a presentation to the UN’s Human Rights Council on the current state of human rights in the country.
After meeting with Kheng, Smith said she had raised with the interior minister her concerns about policing, especially when it comes to protests, as well as the country’s overflowing prisons, which were already overfull before the recent drugs crackdown.
“I raised a number of issues concerning prison overcrowding, concerning the training of police officers and the monitoring of disputes and peaceful demonstrations, and also a lot of issues concerning the street roundups, the anti-drug campaign of the government, and also some issues on anti-trafficking,” Smith said.
“We had a number of relevant issues we had to cover across a number of human rights issues so it was quite a large and wide ranging discussion.”
Kheng’s chief of cabinet, Phor Pheak, told reporters the interior minister tried to placate the Smith’s concerns about prison overcrowding.
“He responded that it was true that for this campaign we arrested 10,000 people, making the prisons crowded,” Pheak said. “We are making a plan to build a new prison in Pursat for 2,000 people and we are building a drug rehabilitation centre in Preah Sihanouk.
”Opposition spokesman Yim Sovann said Sokha in the morning had raised with Smith the opposition’s strong desire to improve access to voter registration before the important July 2018 national election as well as the recent rise in violent rhetoric from the government.
“We discussed concerns regarding the political environment in Cambodia, about the implementation of the amendment of the Law on Political Parties that has negatively affected the CNRP, and the general human rights situation in Cambodia,” Sovann said.
He said Sokha stressed his concerns about the government’s “threats to create more violence on the opposition, and the irregularities during the elections in 2017, and what we can do to push for reforms for free and fair elections and to solve issues peacefully”.
Smith said she raised Sokha’s concerns with Kheng during their meeting, and that the interior minister “agreed that there needed to be fair elections”.
“I raised some of the issues concerning voter registration and the conduct of the elections,” the rapporteur said. “I expressed my hope that, moving forward, there would be peaceful elections for next year.”
Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns