Cambodia Accuses UN of Lying about Intimidation of Activists

Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) shakes hands with UN secretary-general António Guterres at UN headquarters in New York in October 2018.
  • Phoung Vantha and Mao Sopha
  • September 30, 2020 8:26 AM

Responding to the UN Secretary-General’s report to the Human Rights Council, the Cambodian government railed against the findings of the UN, claiming they are fabrications.

PHNOM PENH--The Cambodian government has today (Sept. 30) lashed out at the UN over accusations of human rights abuses. The same day the UN Secretary-General’s office presented a report to the Human Rights Council that found Cambodian police have routinely interfered with civil society organizations and intimidated those who have collaborated with the UN.

Mirroring statements made earlier this year, the Cambodian authorities claimed that civil society groups, activists, various bodies and representatives of the UN as well as the media are all twisting the truth, adding that the police always follow Cambodian law.

General Chhay Kim Khoeun, deputy commissioner and spokesperson for the National Police, said that he did not want to comment further on the UN Secretary-General's report as he felt that Cambodia has been facing such accusations for many years, not just now.

Kim Khoeun then went on to say that Cambodia always made explanatory reports about incidents of intimidation, harassment and violence, but that international organizations often accuse Cambodia of human rights abuses without accept the truth.

The latest flare up between the government and the UN came after the Human Rights Council received a report on Sept. 30 from the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith.

“In August 2019, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia noted reports about the police coming uninvited to events, training or meetings, taking photographs and enquiring about organizers and participants,” the report read.

It also highlighted instances of reprisals and intimidation made by security officials against those who engaged with the United Nations.

“OHCHR in Cambodia corroborated reports of multiple incidents of police interference in United Nations activities and, in February 2020, the High Commissioner noted alleged intimidation impeding human rights organizations’ capacity to monitor and report, including to the Human Rights Council,” the report added.

Kim Khoeun considered the use of the word reprisals as an insult to both the Cambodian people and authorities, saying it made it sound like the Cambodian government regarded the Cambodian people as enemies. 

“That word [implies] we are not acceptable—neither the government or authorities takes its own people for enemies because the great state authority is strong due to the people's support,” Kim Khoeun said, despite the 2018 national elections being widely regarded as rigged following the dissolution of the only viable opposition party.

He claimed that the report is full of imaginary recollections and that its authors intend to spread lies about the government.

Echoing the sentiments of Kim Khoeun, government spokesperson Phay Siphan claimed the report was baseless as it included observations from Rhona Smith. He noted that Cambodia’s representative to the UN An Sokkhoeurn will explain why the Secretary-General’s report is false, but did not go into specifics.

“Raising [human rights abuses] does not respond nor reflect the reality in Cambodia,” he said.

The Cambodian government and the UN have clashed frequently over human rights abuses, which—despite being well documented—the government continues to deny. Recent months have seen an array of critical voices silenced, with rappers, monks, environmentalists, former opposition figures and activists being jailed for peaceful protests and expressing criticism.


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