More than 40 countries condemned what they characterised as Cambodia's escalating repression of the political opposition, civil society and media in a joint statement presented on Wednesday during a session at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The statement, delivered by New Zealand’s representative on behalf of 44 countries, raises concerns about the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha and the forced dissolution of his Cambodia National Rescue Party as well as about “a significant clampdown on the press and civil society across the country”.
“As we near the elections scheduled for 29 July this year, our previous optimism has been replaced by deep concern about the recent serious decline of civil and political rights in Cambodia,” the statement reads.
It calls for an inter-sessional briefing of the Human Rights Council ahead of the elections. “An electoral process from which the main democratic opposition party has been arbitrarily excluded cannot be considered genuine or legitimate,” it reads.
The 44 countries include Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the US and the United Kingdom. No Southeast Asian countries were signatories.
Permanent Representative of Cambodia to the UN Ney Sam Ol criticised the statement in a response, rejecting all the group's concerns and accusing the council of being used as "a political tool to meddle in other State’s [sic] domestic affairs".
“Never before has it been like it is today; this Council has been dramatically politicized,” he says in a transcript of his remarks, arguing that the session under which the statement was read out did not have Cambodia on the agenda.
“It is not acceptable and it is not fair for Cambodia where the menu clearly mentions only sardine is to be served, but surprisingly tuna is put on the table, instead,” he said.
He goes on to say he “vehemently opposes” any suggestion of having an inter-sessional briefing on Cambodia, and characterises such a briefing as an effort by unnamed governments to bring about regime change.
“Therefore, Cambodia categorically dismisses this politically motivated statement, which bears ill intent to militate against Government’s effort in maintaining law and order, in fostering peace, stability and development for its people,” he said.
The Human Rights Council is scheduled to discuss Cambodia on Thursday afternoon.