NGOs warn UN Human Rights Council of grim rights situation in Cambodia
17 September 2006 6:00 pm

The NGOs' submission to the UN Human Rights Council bemoans the continued lack of independence of the judiciary and the legislature in Cambodia, and highlights several repressive new laws likely to be used to target opposition politicians or other government critics. These include a law which – contrary to Cambodia's Constitution – makes it illegal for Members of Parliament to make public statements that "abuse an individual's dignity, social customs, public order and national security". The NGO report also cites other early indications that forthcoming elections in Cambodia will not be free and fair.

The deteriorating human rights situation in Cambodia demands firmer action from the United Nations and the country’s biggest foreign donors, according to three human rights NGOs. 

The Cambodian government’s failure to meet its human rights obligations is highlighted by the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), in a submission to the highest UN rights body the Human Rights Council. The Council is holding its second session in Geneva from 18 September till 6 October 2006.

“Impunity and corruption continue to be rampant, thousands of poor Cambodians are losing their homes to land-grabbing, and free speech has deteriorated to the extent that Members of Parliament can face criminal charges for expressing their opinions,” said Kek Galabru, President of LICADHO. “The human rights situation just seems to go from bad to worse.”

“Despite this bleak situation, there are some indications that the position of the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in Cambodia (Special Representative) may be eliminated, due to pressures from some governments sitting in the Human Rights Council,” warned Anselmo Lee Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA. “This would send completely the wrong message to the Cambodian government that it can get away with its blatant disregard for human rights.”

Cambodia is the only country in Asia to have to both a Special Representative and a UN human rights field office, which it has had since 1993. “The government has long wanted this UN presence to be withdrawn, but at the same time has consistently failed to meaningfully implement recommendations by the UN and others to improve human rights protections,” said Thun Saray, President of ADHOC. “The reality is that the human rights situation remains dismal.”

The NGOs’ submission to the Council bemoans the continued lack of independence of the judiciary and the legislature in Cambodia, and highlights several repressive new laws likely to be used to target opposition politicians or other government critics. These include a law which – contrary to Cambodia’s Constitution – makes it illegal for Members of Parliament to make public statements that “abuse an individual's dignity, social customs, public order and national security”. The NGO report also cites other early indications that forthcoming elections in Cambodia will not be free and fair.

Another major rights problem highlighted in the report is the continuing forced evictions of thousands of people from their land throughout the country, despite an international outcry over this in June.

The NGOs recommend that the mandate of the Special Representative be maintained and strengthened. They also urge member countries of the Council who are donors to Cambodia to use their positions to denounce the dire human rights situation in the country.

“Donors to Cambodia who are on the Council – such as China, Japan, South Korea, France, Germany, Canada, Finland and the UK – have a particular responsibility to speak out and hold the Cambodian government to account for its rights violations,” said Anselmo Lee of FORUM-ASIA.

“Donors have pumped millions of dollars of aid into Cambodia, yet the government only pays lip service to implementing reforms to improve rule of law, democracy and human rights,” said Kek Galabru of LICADHO.

“Unless it wants to see the situation continue to worsen in Cambodia, the international community – and especially the main foreign donors – needs to take a much firmer line with the government,” added Thun Saray of ADHOC.

For the full report, please click here. (in .pdf, 7pp, 78kb)

For further information, please contact Thun Saray of ADHOC (+855 (0)1 688 0509 or adhoc@forum.org.kh), Naly Pilorge of LICADHO (+855 (0)12 803 650 or contact@licadho.org) and Anselmo Lee of FORUM-ASIA (+66 (0)1 868 9178 or cambodia@forum-asia.org).