The US representative on the UN Human Rights Council has expressed concerns over the breakdown in dialogue between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.
A joint statement that was backed by 36 member states on Wednesday urged the government to respect human rights “including the freedoms of expression, association and assembly.”
The statement was supported by the 28 European Union member states and the United States, as well as Albania, Australia, Canada, Japan, Macedonia, Switzerland and Norway, and called on the ruling party to take steps to alleviate the tensions.
It cited the deterioration of relations since the 2014 agreement between the CPP and CNRP that ended a period of unrest following elections in 2013, saying that legal action had been “disproportionately pursued against critics of the government.”
Keith Harper, the U.S. ambassador to the Council, read the statement aloud during a session on Wednesday.
“We are deeply concerned about the current escalation of political tensions in Cambodia, which threatens legitimate activities by opposition parties and human rights NGOs.
There is particular concern about the appearance that legal action is being disproportionately pursued against critics of the government. We are equally concerned about the status of ‘culture of dialogue’ between the two main political parties, which has ceased to function,” he said.
“We also urge the government to make their utmost efforts to create a political environment in which opposition parties and civil society can all function freely. We also call upon Cambodia to uphold its commitments to the Cambodian people and to the international community to conduct free and fair elections which would ensure the legitimacy of the next government,” he added.
Phay Siphan, a government spokesman, said the government had implemented the rule of law and would not tolerate “rights and freedoms which can lead to rebellion.”
Last week Ravina Shamdasani, spokesman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concerns over the situation, while U.S. lawmakers also recently wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen saying that unless the tensions were eased there could not be a free and fair election in 2018.
The CNRP announced this week that it would hold mass demonstrations if the authorities arrested its deputy leader, Kem Sokha, who was sentenced to five months in prison on Sunday for missing court appearances.