UN special Rapporteur Rhona Smith officially commenced her latest visit to the Kingdom yesterday, meeting with the Ministry of Justice to raise concerns over a slew of legislative and constitutional amendments undertaken as part of the government’s recent crackdown on political dissent.
The United Nations special rapporteur’s visit comes as the government has embarked on a sustained campaign against the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was forcibly dissolved and its leader jailed, as well as on NGOs and independent media outlets, several of which have been shuttered.
Smith yesterday met with Appeal Court President You Bunleng, followed by a meeting with Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana, where she raised recent legislative changes undertaken on the ministry’s watch.
“Yes, I mentioned my concern that any constitutional amendments or legislation in Cambodia should be carefully analysed in advance with consultation to show compliance with international HR standards before any of the laws are actually adopted and enacted,” she said.
The government last year changed the Law on Political Parties to facilitate the dissolution of parties, among other changes widely believed to be aimed at the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party.
Further amendments to electoral laws saw the CNRP’s National Assembly and commune council positions redistributed among other parties, with minor parties claiming the former and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party taking the lion’s share of the latter.
More recently, the government has passed amendments to the Constitution and Criminal Code placing new restrictions on political participation and introducing a lèse majesté law criminalising insults to the King. Smith co-authored a statement last month calling the lèse majesté provisions incompatible with Cambodia’s obligations under international law.
Smith ended her brief comments yesterday by saying there were many reasons to be concerned about Cambodia’s political situation, but that there was no one solution to improve it.
See our interview here:
Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin claimed Smith did not raise any specific cases during the interaction, only talking about justice system reforms in general.
“She has not mentioned about any real case of a politician or a human rights official,” he said. “What is positive is that she was happy and helped to give advice and ideas as an expert.”
Regarding the introduction of lèse majesté provisions, Malin said the ministry explained that the changes were needed to reflect Cambodia’s current situation.
“We have explained to her human rights, national laws, social, cultural and historical aspects of Cambodia to understand why we need to change the law to punish individuals insulting the King,” he said.
The meeting also raised the long-discussed creation of appeal courts in the provinces, with Malin saying Smith was pleased with the construction of three courthouses in Battambang, Tbong Khmum and Preah Vihear provinces. Currently the country’s only appellate court is in Phnom Penh.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan, meanwhile, was dismissive of Smith’s visit, saying it was just an exercise for local civil society organisations to “twist” the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha for “treason”, the closure of numerous media outlets and the arrest of two former Radio Free Asia reporters for “espionage” into a human rights crisis.
“It is time for [NGOs] to report to their boss,” Eysan said, referring to Smith.