Rhona Smith, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, got an earful from the country’s top human rights official on Tuesday, only he wasn’t talking about the situation in Cambodia.
Cambodian Human Rights Commission President Keo Remy said he told Smith that the U.N. needs to examine Syria instead of concerning itself with Cambodia.
“We are strongly concerned about Syria,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service. “The Syrian people are waiting for the solution. However, the security council of the United Nations meeting was equal to zero, so we are really concerned about this matter.”
Smith’s remit, however, is Cambodia, where critics of the government are often jailed, forced into exile, are beaten, or die under mysterious circumstances.
She refused to be distracted by the bait-and-switch tactic of Keo Remy, who is a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and a secretary of state to the Council of Ministers.
“We are concerned about a lot of things related to the human rights situation, and we continue to talk about this with ministers in our mission to Cambodia,” she said.
For examples Smith need look no further back than Monday when the Phnom Penh Municipal Court jailed opposition party lawmaker Um Sam An for two years and six months and security forces attacked demonstrators protesting land grabs in Cambodia.
Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker Um Sam An was sentenced to a two-year-and-six-month jail term and a 4 million riel (U.S. $976) fine for inciting discrimination and inciting social instability.
The charges arose from Um Sam An’s accusations that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) had failed to stop land encroachment by Vietnam and used improper maps to demarcate the border between the two former colonies of France.
Um Sam An was jailed in April after Hun Sen ordered police to arrest anyone accusing the government of using “fake” maps to cede national territory to neighboring Vietnam. The CNRP lawmaker made his remarks as he was being led away from an appearance at the Appeals Court in Phnom Penh.
Also on Monday, Doun Penh district security forces attacked the demonstrators who carried lotus flowers, banged drums, waived the national flag and unfurled banners demanding a fair solution to the land-grab issue.
Protestors and human rights observers told RFA’s Khmer Service the attacks were a surprise.
Am Sam Ath, a senior coordinator for the rights group LICADHO, was monitoring the event when he was severely beaten, suffering blows to the face, neck and head.
Smith began a 10-day visit to Cambodia on Monday to observe the situation in the country, where political tensions have been rising this year ahead of local commune elections in 2017 and parliamentary polls in 2018.
Smith, a British academic, is scheduled to meet with NGOs, labor unions, the land-conflict communities and others who say the government is restricting the people’s political rights.