Joint NGO Letter: Call on the UN Human Rights Council to Address the Deteriorating Human Rights Situation in Cambodia
20 August 2015 10:50 am
To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the UN Human Rights Council
Geneva, 20 August 2015,
Re: Addressing the deteriorating human rights situation in Cambodia and ensuring that the United Nations retains its protection role and monitoring capacity in the country
We urge your delegation to address the deteriorating human rights situation in Cambodia by supporting a resolution, at the 30th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council (14 September-2 October 2015), that highlights patterns of serious violations and calls on the Cambodian Government to put an end to such violations and to abide by its domestic and international legal obligations. The resolution should also extend the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia.
We remain deeply concerned about the serious and systematic human rights violations in Cambodia and ongoing impunity for perpetrators. More than 20 years after the 1991 International Agreement on a Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Conflict, by which Cambodia and 18 other signatory States committed themselves to protecting and promoting human rights in Cambodia and UN-organized democratic elections in 1993, the country risks falling deeper into a pattern of institutionalized human rights violations, including political violence. In the run-up to local and national elections scheduled for 2017 and 2018, the Cambodian Government of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), led by Prime Minister Hun Sen, has taken steps to further restrict Cambodian citizens’ rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and to limit the political opposition’s ability to meaningfully engage in policy-making. Additionally, the government has taken measures to prevent civil society organizations from operating freely and independently. The last two years have witnessed the hasty and secretive preparation and adoption of legislation that unduly restricts human rights and fundamental freedoms. There has also been an increase in the use of lethal and other excessive force against peaceful protests and occasionally violent social unrest, as well as instances of judicial harassment and unwarranted legal attacks against human rights defenders, community activists, trade unionists and political opposition members and their supporters.
In his last report to the Council, former UN Special Rapporteur Mr. Surya P. Subedi warned that Cambodia stood “at a crossroads.” Since then, the government has neither taken steps to implement key recommendations made by Mr. Subedi and his predecessors nor carried out institutional reforms that will be key to ensuring stability based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. On the contrary, through its monopoly control over not only political positions in the government but also the entire civil service, the CPP has consolidated its partisan hold on the armed forces, the police, the judiciary and all state institutions, using them to step up its attacks on independent and opposition voices.
In the face of these mounting human rights concerns that flout the spirit and purposes of the 1991 Agreement and UN engagement in the country since, the Human Rights Council should adopt at its upcoming 30th session a resolution that:
– Raises substantial issues of concern, including violations of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, association and expression; threats to, and attacks against, human rights defenders; the lack of independence of the judiciary; violations of land and housing rights; the erosion of fundamental democratic principles and institutions; and ongoing impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses;
– Calls on the Cambodian Government to put an end to these serious violations, abide by its domestic and international human rights obligations, and implement key legal and institutional reforms that UN bodies and mechanisms have highlighted as priorities;
– Extends the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur for a period of at least two years, with monitoring and reporting powers in addition to advisory services;
– Calls on the Cambodian Government to fully cooperate with the current Special Rapporteur, Ms. Rhona Smith, as well as with other UN human rights bodies and mechanisms; and
– Calls on the Cambodian Government to establish a time-bound action plan for the implementation of recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur and by previous mandate holders, as well as by UN bodies and mechanisms, including treaty monitoring bodies, thematic special procedures of the Human Rights Council, and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
– We also call upon your Government to express its support to the renewal of the mandate of the OHCHR country office in Cambodia, and to underline the importance of the complementarities between the work of the Special Rapporteur and the OHCHR country office.
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Such a resolution will reaffirm the UN’s historical responsibility to support the Cambodian people’s quest for justice, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. In the words of the former Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for human rights in Cambodia, Mr. Yash Ghai, “Cambodia is unique insofar as the international community has played a central role since the peace agreements in rebuilding the country and its institutions, with the aim of establishing a regime based on respect for human rights and the rule of law.”
The international community, which has invested significant resources and efforts in Cambodia since the 1991 Agreement, should not allow Cambodia to drop any lower on its list of priorities at a time when the country’s human rights situation is worsening. The Human Rights Council should respond to Cambodia’s mounting human rights crisis by sending a signal to the government showing that the Council intends to continue to closely monitor and address the situation. As the main UN body in charge of promoting and protecting human rights, the Human Rights Council should not stand idly by as the Cambodian Government further restricts the human rights of its citizens, uses the security forces and judicial system as tools for repression, limits the ability of the political opposition to operate, and attempts to stifle and control a vibrant and independent civil society that is the mainstay of support for human rights and democratic elections.
We therefore urge your delegation to support a Human Rights Council resolution that addresses the serious human rights issues outlined above and in annexes, and extends the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia for a period of at least two years, in order for the Council to retain its protection role and monitoring capacity.
We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and are available to provide your delegation with further information as required.
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia)
Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Civil Rights Defenders
International Commission of Jurists
International Service for Human Rights
Human Rights Now
Human Rights Watch
World Organization Against Torture (OMCT)
 While Human Rights Council resolutions on Cambodia have been adopted under agenda item 10 (“Technical assistance and capacity-building”) in the last few years, in practice mandate holders have interpreted their mandate broadly so as to be able to conduct full monitoring work in addition to providing advisory services to the Cambodian Government. In addition, they have benefited from the work and support of the OHCHR country office in Phnom Penh, which has also been able to conduct in-depth documentation and monitoring work. Irrespective of bilateral negotiations between the government and OHCHR regarding the renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on an OHCHR country office (the current MoU ends early 2016), any resolution adopted by the Council under its agenda item 10 and extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur should be phrased in a way that allows for continued broad interpretation of the latter, so as to include advisory services (technical assistance and capacity-building), monitoring, public reporting, and follow-up to the implementation of previous UN recommendations.
 The new UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Ms. Rhona Smith, was appointed in March 2015. So far, she has not been able to carry out an official visit to the country (see annex).