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Division over rights progress

Diplomats, advocates disagree over Cambodia at UN rights review.

DIPLOMATS and rights workers struck strikingly different tones in assessing the Cambodia’s progress as the Kingdom came up before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday as part of its first Universal Periodic Review on human rights.

After convening in December to discuss Cambodia’s rights situation and hear a report from Sun Suon, Cambodia’s ambassador to the UN, members of the Human Rights Council drafted a list of 91 recommendations that Cambodia was to consider in the run-up to Wednesday’s event.

Sun Suon struck a gracious tone in responding to these recommendations on Wednesday, and although he said that Cambodia “accepted” all of them, he addressed them in general rather than specific terms.

“We view that most of the recommendations are essential to the context of the effort for promoting human rights in Cambodia,” Sun Suon said, touting last week’s passage of the Anticorruption Law as an example of the government’s commitment to international rights norms.

Numerous council members praised the passage of the Anticorruption Law, which has been roundly criticised by local rights advocates for its rushed passage and weak enforcement mechanisms.

The US’s John Mariz called on Cambodia to respect freedom of expression and re-examine the process by which parliamentary immunity is revoked. He said the country deserved credit, however, for the work of the Khmer Rouge tribunal and its efforts against human trafficking.

Thailand’s Sihasak Phuangketkeow said Cambodia’s “openness in discussing her challenges” was to be commended, as was the country’s support for “most of the core international human rights instruments”. China’s Hu Miao said Cambodia “has achieved important, visible progress” in economic and social development.

However, speaking after the statements of the council members, a representative of the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues said the diplomats were ignoring “continued, systematic human rights violations in Cambodia”.

“Given the seriousness of the situation, our organisations deeply regret that several countries purposely made general and vague comments instead of recommending specific actions,” the federation said.

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development renewed calls for a moratorium on land evictions, and Interfaith International slammed Cambodia’s treatment of refugees, including the 20 Uighurs who were deported to China in December.

Sun Suon dismissed the rights groups’ concerns in his concluding remarks, saying that the government had already responded to them “on many occasions”.

He affirmed the value of Cambodia’s first periodic review process, however, calling it an “innovative and promising mechanism for the promotion and protection of human rights worldwide”.

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