Cambodia at the 33rd session of the UN Human Rights Council

By Rosanna Ocampo, FORUM-ASIA

39 states delivered a joint statement in response to developments related to shrinking civil society space in Cambodia at the beginning of the September 2016 session of the UN Human Rights Council. In spite of this, there was no country resolution passed as states chose to hide behind a non-binding arrangement to bi-annualise the resolution which scheduled it to be in 2017. The country was also discussed during the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the subject, as well as following the Secretary-General’s report on the OHCHR’s work in Cambodia. At this time in a joint statement 39 states called “on all relevant stakeholders to work toward deescalating the tensions and building trust and confidence.” They urged the government to create a political environment where opposition and civil society can freely function, and uphold commitments to ensuring free and fair elections. States also noted the attacks on civil society space including the arrest of staff from the Cambodian Organisation for Human Rights (ADHOC) and the murder of Khem Ley a political commentator.

The Special Rapporteur also noted the threat to civil society space and discussed the use of legislation against political dissent, and the breakdown of the culture of dialogue between the two main political parties.

During the interactive dialogue with the Rapporteur, a number of NGOs spoke. FORUM-ASIA called on the Special Rapporteur to monitor the freedoms of assembly, association, and expression in the country for her next report, and to identify benchmarks on these freedoms that the government should follow. It asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on how to improve the protection of human rights defenders in Cambodia. It also urged member states to closely monitor the country situation and strongly respond to any further deterioration.

The report of the Secretary-General addressed issues related to democratic space, rule of law, prison reform, and economic and social rights. In presenting the report, the Deputy High Commissioner talked about the dual trends in the country. While some progress is made, there is also shrinking civil society space and backtracking in the culture of dialogue between the two main political parties.

Cambodia responded to statements and claimed that some parties manipulate the situation in the country for political gain under the umbrella of human rights. The Human Rights Council and states must pay close attention to Cambodia in preparation for the 2017 and 2018 elections, and to prevent similar instances like the arrest of ADHOC staff or the murder of prominent activist Kem Ley from occurring.