WASHINGTON DC - The UN’s special envoy for human rights is calling for a political solution that would allow the return of opposition leader Sam Rainsy ahead of national elections in July 2013.
In a statement Tuesday, the envoy, Surya Subedi, says a political solution should be found to enable Sam Rainsy to “play a full role” in the election. He also said Cambodian elections need the trust of the Cambodian people or the country risks a return to its violent past.
The statement was released alongside his most recent report to the UN on Cambodia’s human rights environment, following a visit earlier this year.
Sam Rainsy remains in exile, facing 10 years in prison sentences he says are politically motivated. He was recently named the head of a new opposition, the Cambodian National Rescue Party.
Subedi said in his statement the opposition must be given a fair chance to compete. That means the return of Sam Rainsy and the reform of a flawed voter administration, he said.
“If the electoral process is unable to command the trust and confidence of the electorate, the very foundation of the Cambodian political and constitutional architecture embodied in the Paris Peace Agreements will be shaken and the country may run the risk of a return to violence,” he said.
He gave 17 recommendations for election reform in order for next year’s polls to meet international standards. Those include reforming the National Election Committee, which is facing criticism it is politically biased toward the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
National and local election committees need to be better balanced to reflect members of opposition and minority parties, Subedi said.
“And mechanisms must be established outside the NEC in order to resolve election-related disputes properly,” he said. “All major political parties should have fair and equal access to the mass media to convey their messages to the electorate.”
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the current election body already reflects “the will of the people.” “No one has the right to command or pressure Cambodia at all, because Cambodia has sovereign and independent status,” he said.
He said the return of Sam Rainsy is a judicial issue, not a political one. “It’s a separate problem that’s under the authority of the courts,” he said.
Cambodian law makes those convicted of serious crimes ineligible to run for office. Sam Rainsy’s supporters say he was convicted of crimes related to racial incitement by a court biased toward the ruling party.
Election observers have said Cambodia needs to find a way to have a legitimate opposition contest the 2013 elections if they are to be considered legitimate.