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Cambodia Slams U.N. Rights Envoy Over Election Criticism

FILE PHOTO - UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith listens to a reporter's questions during a press conference at her main office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. Smith on Wednesday wrapped up her ten-day mission to Cambodia during which she met with the government officials, people of non-governmental organizations and opposition party lawmakers. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

The criticism came after Rhona Smith questioned the targeting of election boycott campaigners by the Cambodian authorities.

The Cambodian government has criticized Rhona Smith, the U.N. human rights rapporteur to the country after she questioned the targeting of election boycott campaigners by the authorities.

On Friday, Smith wrote on the Facebook page of the Cambodian branch of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) that she was concerned by the threat of financial penalties levied as punishment for taking part in a legal campaign to oppose the ruling Cambodian People’s Party at the election on Sunday, which was organized by the banned opposition, the Cambodia National Rescue Party.

“I welcome recent government calls to local authorities to avoid discrimination during the campaign and encourage the government to condemn in very clear terms voter intimidation and to clarify that calling for a boycott in a non-compulsory vote is permitted,” she said.

But the foreign ministry on Monday said the government interpreted the law to mean that taking part in an election boycott campaign was “preventing others from going to vote”, which is banned under the election law, despite Cambodians maintaining the free will to decide their own course of action.

“The Special Rapporteur seems to lose sight of the dangerous populism of Mr. Sam Rainsy and his squad, who call for military rebellion against the government, incite racial hatred and xenophobia, and provoke ultra-nationalism, jeopardizing peaceful relations with one of Cambodia's neighbors,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, referring to the former CNRP president, Sam Rainsy, and his campaigning against Vietnamese influence in Cambodia. “Such methods do not bear a semblance of democracy and are condemned in any democratic society.”

Chum Sounry, a foreign affairs spokesman, could not be reached.

Simon Walker, an OHCHR representative in Cambodia, said in an email that the special rapporteur was an independent expert and not U.N. staff, thus her comments should not reflect on the ongoing work between the OHCHR and Cambodia.

“The OHCHR globally has a role to service special procedures and, as such, OHCHR does not make judgments about the possible bias or prejudice of their work,” he wrote.

“In terms of elections, the U.N., in any country, hopes for credible, inclusive and peaceful elections and follow-up to elections,” he added.