November 18, 2014 / 2:12 PM / 4 years ago

Cambodia's government uses courts to silence critics: U.N. rapporteur

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen arrives before voting at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh August 26, 2014. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

GENEVA (Reuters) - Cambodia’s government is using the country’s judiciary to silence opposition parties and other critics of its policies, a United Nations investigator said on Tuesday.

Nepalese-born barrister and academic Surya Sabedi, said the situation was highlighted by a recent series of arrests that were promptly followed by mass trials and convictions for participation in peaceful protests.

Cambodian officials in Geneva were not immediately available to comment.

“It saddens me to see the courts being used again and again as a tool of the executive,” Sabedi said.

“Those who seek to exercise fundamental freedoms can be arrested, charged and swiftly convicted on little or no material grounds,” he said.

Sabedi is a special rapporteur on Cambodia for the U.N.’s Geneva-based Human Rights Council. His statement was issued by the office of the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

Cambodia’s prime minister Hun Sen, once a commander in the communist Khmer Rouge which ruled the country through terror in the late 1970s, has often been accused by international rights groups of running a dictatorship.

The recent arrests - in a country which has seen booming foreign investment in the past decade - were the latest in a crackdown on government opponents since protests, officially dubbed an insurrection, in the capital Phnom Penh in July

In such cases, judges bent to the will of the government, Sabedi indicated. “The recent conduct of the courts demonstrates once again the need for an independent judiciary in Cambodia,” the British-based international law professor said.

Reporting by Robert Evans; Editing by Louise Ireland

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