PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - A U.N. human rights envoy on Thursday urged Cambodia to ensure judicial fairness and prevent threats and violence as political tension moves the country closer to a “dangerous tipping point”.
Rhona Smith, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, said political rivalry had led to violence against opposition party members and disproportionate use of judicial mechanisms as attention turns towards a 2018 election.
“All laws must be applied equally ... to all political parties and their members to ensure protection of the democratic space in the run up to elections,” Smith told a news conference in Phnom Penh.
“The political situation, which includes renewed threats, judicial proceedings and even physical beating of members of the opposition, is a worry.”
Cambodia has been fraught with political malaise, even as it has moved from a war-torn basket case to a promising frontier market, as rival parties bicker and Prime Minister Hun Sen prepares to face an election that could be the biggest test of his three-decade rule.
The gap between his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the revamped opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was narrowed in a disputed 2013 election that sparked a year-long parliamentary crisis.
The two sides reached a pact but it broke down in 2015.
Eleven CNRP members were jailed in July for an illegal protest and two of its lawmakers were assaulted outside parliament three months later.
An arrest warrant has been issued for CNRP leader Sam Rainsy, on charges of defamation in several different cases. He is in self-imposed exile.
Smith also raised concern about violence against women, forced evictions and access to healthcare and said the political climate had clearly worsened since her last visit in September.
“I don’t think there is any doubt that there is more tension and there are more potential human rights problems now,” she said.
Reporting Phnom Penh Newsroom; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel