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Rights review process ‘has little NGO input’

Non-governmental organisations have little input in Cambodia’s sporadic follow-up reports to the human rights treaties it ratified with the United Nations, allowing the government to claim it complies with UN human rights legislation, a study released yesterday indicates.

“It’s safe to assume there are above 2,000 NGOs in Cambodia, [but] only a handful of NGOs have ever engaged with the UN review process,” said Billy Tai, a co-author of the study published by the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, at a conference in Phnom Penh yesterday.

The eight UN human rights treaties ratified by the Cambodian government obligate it to follow up every few years, while NGOs across the world typically file “shadow” reports along with the government to provide a fuller picture.

However, only 15 NGO reports in Cambodia have been submitted since 2008, said Tai, while the government’s responses often “don’t contain any useful information” and are mainly lists of domestic laws that comply with the UN’s human rights treaties.

Tai said one reason few NGOs assisted in submitting reports was the government’s own delays, which sometimes reach over a decade, and a lack of human and financial resources among NGOs.

For example, Cambodia’s follow-up to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was only submitted 10 and a half years after it was due in 2002.

Speaking at the conference, Margo Waterval, a member of the UN Human Rights Committee, said shadow reports “catalysed” governmental implementation of human rights treaties.

She added that Cambodia was expected to send a follow-up report to the ICCPR in March 2016, which includes touchy topics such as investigating political killings since the Paris Peace Accords of 1991 and reviewing “current and pending” legislation including the controversial NGO Law passed earlier this month.

Mak Sambath, president of the government’s human rights committee, said in an interview the government had already prepared its response to the ICCPR, denying that it took too long to submit reports. “We have already done our work in accordance with recommendations of the UN,” he said.

But Ny Chakrya, head of human rights and legal assistance at local NGO Adhoc, said that existing Cambodian laws demonstrated that the government routinely flouts the UN.

“There is not a single year that the UN human rights committee doesn’t give human rights recommendations,” he said.

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