Category: Cambodia

Country Profile: Cambodia

Introduction

Cambodia has never served as a member of the Human Rights Council. Advisory services and technical assistance for Cambodia has been the subject of annual resolutions during the September sessions of the Council between 2009 and 2011.

Thematic Issues

Cambodia’s engagement at the Council usually focuses on responding to discussions on the situation of human rights in the country or are in relation to the Universal Periodic Review. Cambodia has been main sponsor of a resolution on regional cooperation for the protection and promotion of human rights in the Asia-Pacific region. It has also co-sponsored 42 resolutions, mainly between 2010 and 2013. These resolutions have primarily been on trafficking, health, and children, although other subjects include climate change, the environment, and technical cooperation in the field of human rights.

Freedom of Assembly and of Association

Cambodia has not actively participated in resolutions on freedom of assembly and of association. The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association made reference to Cambodia in his June 2016 report, citing excessive policy and practical restrictions over assembly and association rights of the opposition or civil society. He added that Cambodia was among the states that have been governed by the same party or individual for decades. Cambodia’s Law on Associations and NGOs introduced in 2015 further restricts this freedom through mandatory registration for all organisations.

Freedom of Expression

Cambodia has not actively participated in resolutions on freedom of expression, although its shrinking civil society space, including its proposed Internet law, has been a topic often discussed at the Council.

Human Rights Defenders

In March 2014, Cambodia delivered a statement during the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. This was in exercise of its right to reply to a comment of an NGO on Cambodia, which had drawn attention to a case of the detention of 21 human rights defenders.

Country-Specific Issues

Cambodia has never been a member of the Human Rights Council and thus, never voted on country-specific issues. It has participated in interactive dialogues with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar in 2012 and 2013, as well as delivered an item 4 statement on the situation in the country in 2013. These statements were done in support of the efforts of its fellow ASEAN member, and opposed strong scrutiny while favouring positive incentives and engagements.

Universal Periodic Review

Cambodia underwent its second cycle of the UPR in January 2014. Recommendations that the country received centred on international instruments, the national human rights institution, justice, freedom of association and peaceful assembly, freedom of opinion and expression and human rights defenders.

As a recommending state, Cambodia’s recommendations have focused on women’s rights, trafficking, poverty, development and minorities. It has also made recommendations on freedom of religion and belief.

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.

Cambodia put on notice by the UN Human Rights Council

By Ahmed Adam, FORUM-ASIA

Cambodia was heavily censured at the 32nd regular session of the UN Human Rights Council in June 2016 over the government’s crackdown on space for civil society and dissent. Japan, France, United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and the European Union expressed concern at the recent escalation of attacks on civil society and the political opposition.

The 32nd session of the Council began as the Cambodian government intensified the attacks on independent civil society and opposition. In late April, Cambodian authorities detained four senior staff of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), a member of the National Election Committee (NEC), as well as members of the opposition. They remain in detention, facing trumped up allegations of bribing a witness after responding to a request for legal assistance.

The session opened with strongly-worded expression of concern by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which set the tone for criticisms that followed. He said that the recent arrests of opposition and civil society members in Cambodia indicate a “drastic and deplorable narrowing of the democratic space” that is not conducive to credible elections in 2017 and 2018.

Japan, the main sponsor of the biennial resolution of the Human Rights Council on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, followed suit with another critical statement. Japan said “the current escalation of political tensions in Cambodia, […] have resulted in considerable narrowing of space for legitimate and normal activities by opposition parties and civil society organisations.” The European Union, speaking for its 28 member states, echoed calls by Japan and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights “to ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders and civil society.”

Belgium and Switzerland also voiced their concern at the deplorable situation in Cambodia particularly emphasising the restrictive legal framework for freedom of expression, assembly, and association in Cambodia. The Cambodian government has over the past years introduced several legislations to curb freedom of assembly and association. Most importantly, the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (LANGO), adopted in August 2015, imposes severe restrictions on civil society and adds a chilling effect to the already oppressive environment for freedom of association in the country.

At the Council, the Cambodian government failed to respond to these concerns in a constructive manner. Instead, it responded with denials, and resorted to accusing the Council of politicisation, double-standards, and selectivity and states of infringing on Cambodia’s judicial procedures and interfering in its internal affairs.

Statements at the Human Rights Council show that the world is not going to turn a blind eye as the Cambodian government blatantly abuses its legal system and judiciary to silence independent voices and civil society. These statements by the international community should serve as a notice for the Cambodian government ahead of the Council’s substantive discussions on Cambodia in September when the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights situation in Cambodia will present her annual report. The government will face harsher scrutiny if it fails to address serious human rights concerns in the country by 33rd session of the Human Rights Council in September. It should start by immediately releasing detained civil society and opposition members.