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UN Rights Envoy Calls for More Participation, Accountability From Cambodia

UN Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith at a conference in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, November 8, 2018. (Hul Reaksmey/VOA Khmer)

Rhona Smith said the government’s development strategy was dependent on a free press and vibrant civil society, as well as fair access to justice and accountability for officials.

The UN’s special researcher on human rights in Cambodia has said the government should allow for more public participation and accountability in order for it to meet its sustainable development goals.

At the conclusion of an 11-day visit to the country on Thursday, Rhona Smith said a greater respect for human rights could avert sanctions against the country, such as its removal from the European Union’s preferential trade scheme, known as Everything But Arms (EBA).

Smith told reporters that the government’s development strategy was dependent on a free press and vibrant civil society, as well as fair access to justice and accountability for officials.

“This means that no-one is left behind, including women, the poor, the near poor, the underrepresented and those living in marginalized or vulnerable situations,” she said.

“If Cambodia is to continue on its path of sustainable economic growth, it needs a government that reflects the will of the people, institutions that respond to people’s rights, and people with the necessary skills, voice, and access to services to participate actively in development and society. This means keeping human rights at the heart of national strategies for sustainable development and durable peace,” she added.

Phay Siphan, a government spokesman, said the government was committed to sustainable development and that these policies were behind the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s overwhelming victory at the polls in July.

“The result of the elections showed the satisfaction and support for the government’s measures,” he said.

He added that the government was in discussions with the EU regarding the EBA scheme, saying it was “not really clear yet” what the impact of Cambodia’s possible withdrawal would be.

More than 700,000 workers rely to some extent on competitive access to European markets for garment and footwear products produced in the Kingdom.

Smith had intended to meet with the former opposition leader, Kem Sokha, but was barred from the meeting by a court. Sokha’s Cambodia National Rescue Party was banned by the Supreme Court last year and Sokha was jailed, later to be released under house arrest pending trial for treason.

Smith also called for the lifting of charges against several rights activists and two former Radio Free Asia journalists.

“I call for the lifting of the sentences against Tep Vanny and the ADHOC staff and former staff members. I remain concerned about the charges pending against the ex-RFA journalists. I also call for the release of Kem Sokha from restricted detention and for the swift conclusion of the investigation in his case to ensure his right to a trial within a reasonable time based on a clear and transparent evaluation of the evidence, or for the charges to be dropped,” she said.

During her visit, Smith also met with several senior officials, including Interior Ministry Sar Kheng, Finance Minister Aun Ponmoniroth, Land Management Minister Chea Sopheara, Justice Minister Ang Vongvathana, and Information Minister Khieu Kannharith.