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Permanent Rep. of Cambodia to the UN Slams Special Rapporteurs’ Statement on Kem Sokha’s Conviction

GENEVA: The Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Cambodia to the UN Office and other organizations in Geneva, In Dara, has issued a press statement in response to a press release of the Special Rapporteurs published on Wednesday, 8 March 2023, regarding former opposition leader Kem Sokha’s recent conviction.

In the statement released on Thursday, 9 March, Ambassador In Dara describes the Special Rapporteurs’ press release as “politically motivated and totally intending to mislead the public” and offers nine points of rebuttal.

He stresses that while “the promotion and advancement of human rights, freedom and democracy are guaranteed under the Cambodian Constitution,” if such rights and freedom are exercised “in complicity with a secret plan of a foreign state or foreign agent aiming at overthrowing the legitimate government, they become illegal acts by any standard.”

He adds that all law-breakers in Cambodia can be charged and prosecuted on the basis of the offences they have committed, and not on the basis of their political status, similar to how it is in other democratic societies of the world. Hence, being a political figure “does not entitle that person to act with impunity.” As such, Ambassador In Dara emphasized that Kem Sokha’s conviction was solely derived from his criminal conduct, particularly that of “conspiracy or collusion with a foreign power,” and a fair trial was “evidenced through 66 rounds of transparent and public hearings”.

The Permanent Representative of Cambodia’s statement also criticizes the Special Rapporteurs, calling them “so-called experts”, and the opinion of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which he says “is not only unwarranted but also misleading”.

Furthermore, he firmly states that “the arrest and detention of Mr Kem Sokha are entirely consistent with the legal procedures,” unlike what the Special Rapporteurs allege.

“Given that Mr Kem Sokha’s flagrant delicto offence, the judiciary police is within its full power to arrest him at anytime and anywhere, regardless of his parliamentary immunity,” says Ambassador In Dara. “Since his arrest in September 2017, Mr Kem Sokha has had his full rights to legal defence with four attorneys at his disposal to disprove the charges and present their arguments in court as part of his rights to a fair trial.”

Regarding the claim that Kem Sokha’s pre-trial detention was “arbitrary”, Ambassador In Dara dismisses the accusation as an exaggeration that is “indicative of either the limited understanding of, or the unwillingness to understand the Cambodian judicial procedures by the Special Rapporteurs.”

He outlines Article 208 of the Criminal Procedures Code, which stipulates that “the duration of provisional detention in the case of felony may be extended to a maximum of 18 months,” and points out that Kem Sokha was released on 9 September 2018 under “judicial supervision subject to certain conditions,” and was, therefore, no longer under pre-trial detention.

Ambassador In Dara further states that the Special Rapporteurs’ assertation that there was a lack of public access to the hearings borders on ridicule “by any standard of the legal and judicial profession,” because access to hearings in all democratic countries is always at the discretion of the court, taking into account of court space, order and security. He punctuates this statement by saying that the Special Rapporteurs probably did not know that were diplomatic corps overwhelmingly present in the courtroom throughout the course of the hearings.

Concluding his statement, the Permanent Representative of Cambodia affirms that “Cambodia remains steadfast in holding the coming July's general elections in a free, fair, just and transparent manner and fully reflective of the people's will,” even despite the absence of some politicians, who are banned from politics due to their past infringement of the law.

He urges the UN Special Rapporteurs to strictly adhere to the Code of Conduct for Special Procedures Mandate-holders’ in fulfilment of their functions, which includes making public statements that can be construed as an interference in the judiciary system of Cambodia.

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