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UN Rights Expert Calls for More Political Space for Former Opposition Members

U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith, delivers a speech to mark May Day at Tonle Sap river bank in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Some hundreds of workers staged a rally, demanding a better working condition. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

At the end of her visit, Smith also called for the charges against two former reporters of Radio Free Asia to be dropped.

Rhona Smith, the special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, has said there have been some positive developments regarding legal reforms, land resolutions and social network protection, but the fundamental freedom of assembly and people’s political rights remain a concern.

During a closing press conference at the end of her 11-day visit to Cambodia, Smith said she was aware of actions taken by the police or the courts against some 80 former members and elected officials of the CNRP at the sub-national level, including over 25 subpoenas issued in Battambang in the last few days.

“Such actions in my view are not conducive to strengthening political rights and democratic space,” she said.

In her statement, Smith expressed her objection to the continued detention of Kem Sokha, and once again called for the release of Sokha from house arrest and the swift conclusion of the investigation, or for the charges to be dropped.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Cambodian government, rejected the assessment made by Smith, saying she was not satisfied by the “peace and political stability” in Cambodia.

“She doesn’t value peace and the stability that Cambodia has achieved prior to the election and on the polling day until now. The citizens are very happy with this,” he said.

However, Soeng Senkaruna, a spokesman for local rights group Adhoc, showed his support to the UN special rapporteur.

“The remarks of Rhona Smith reflect the right things because we could see some measures were taken during her presence in the country,” he said.

During her seventh visit to Cambodia to monitor and assess Cambodia’s human rights situation, Smith met with ministers including Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana, Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhon, Land Management Minister Chea Sophara, Interior Minister Sar Kheng, and senior officials of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, and Anti-Corruption Unit.

At the end of her visit, Smith also called for the charges against two former reporters of Radio Free Asia to be dropped.