The UN Human Rights Council on Friday passed a resolution on “Advisory Services and Technical Assistance” to Cambodia at its 30th session in Geneva, provoking a defensive response from the Kingdom over the body’s comments on the recently passed NGO law.
Adopted without a vote, the resolution follows last month’s nine-day visit by the new UN special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith.
Welcoming Cambodia’s participation in a periodic human-rights review, as well as progress relating to the Khmer Rouge tribunal, Friday’s resolution noted the Kingdom’s efforts to resolve land disputes, reform its judiciary and promote decentralisation of power away from the national level.
However, it also expressed pointed concern at potential negatives associated with the recent Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (LANGO), calling on the government to “implement the law in a fair, transparent and democratic manner, including a review and, if necessary, a revision”.
Mention of the law, which has been a source of ongoing tension between the Cambodian government and UN agencies, was met with hostility by Cambodia’s delegation in Geneva. In its formal statement on the resolution, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed that the clause “blatantly goes against the good will of the government of Cambodia in enacting the Law on Association and NGOs”.
Although not objecting to the passing of the resolution, the ministry maintained that “the ultimate goal of the law is to create a conducive medium for better transparency, cooperation and freedom of civil societies and NGOs”.
However, other observers of human rights in Cambodia claim the contentious law reflects only one part of a broader lack of fundamental freedoms in the Kingdom.
“The NGO law is not the only problem – it is just another mechanism through which the government has tried to give itself legitimacy in curtailing human rights,” said Ou Virak, an independent political analyst and former head of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights.
“The bigger problem is, as the special rapporteur has always expressed, the lack of rule of law, which means there is no independence of judiciary, no guarantees of free and fair elections, or security in terms of land grabs and a host of other issues.”
Mak Sambath, chairman of the government’s Human Rights Committee, said yesterday he had not seen the resolution, but stressed Cambodia’s adherence to the rule of law.
“I agree with the Cambodian delegates,” he said. “The Cambodian government cannot go backwards, as the Law on Associations and NGOs was adopted by the National Assembly and signed by the King.”