So-called UN human rights experts from Geneva, which is 10,000 km away, urged Cambodia to review its approach to Covid-19 on April 12, citing “tough legal and administrative measures” while claiming that ongoing community transmission in Cambodia is limited. Their statement does not help the Cambodian people but creates an unnecessary distraction at a time when Cambodia must work together to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

Experts have not assessed the dramatic increase in Covid-19 cases. Since the community spread on February 20, 59 people have died and 7,352 people have been infected. This community transmission alone is ten times higher than the total number of infections in all of 2020, when there were no deaths at all. It is clear that drastic measures are needed and that deterrence is needed to ensure that quarantine means saving lives and spreading Covid-19 intentionally means putting the lives of others at risk. When UN human rights experts don’t know the difference between human rights and saving lives, that’s a huge problem. Perhaps there is a systematic bias against Cambodia.

Experts rather than releasing this Geneva declaration should come to Cambodia and see for themselves how overcrowded hospitals are and the pressure Covid-19 puts on medical staff. The 7,352 infected cases are just the tip of the iceberg in the amount of work that medical staff have to do. There are at least ten times as many people who have contact with patients who need to be tested, three times, and quarantined over a fifteen day period.

Mitigation measures against Covid-19 is an evolutionary process and could change from day to day depending on how and why it emerges. Human rights experts also criticize Cambodia for disclosing the identity of patients. The Cambodian medical system clearly understands the strict privacy protections against the disclosure of patient information. In the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, Cambodia is withholding this information. But Covid-19 is special and people understand it. By disclosing information, patients, their close contacts and the community at large are helping to contain Covid-19, which increasingly requires more nuanced measures.

This is contrary to the fact when experts suggest that Cambodia should protect the most vulnerable. Strict legal and administrative measures are imposed on the vulnerable population. The necessary arrangements have been provided to patients, their families and those in quarantine. General economic aid has also been put in place to help the poor.

Kok-Thay ENG, Ph.D. Director of the Cambodian Institute for Peace and Development Phnom Penh, Cambodia

  • Keywords: COVID-19 in Cambodia, United Nations human rights