Cambodia has rejected a UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) recommendation submitted by five countries at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) calling on the Kingdom to issue a standing invitation to UN special procedures to visit at any time.
The rejection was part of the 25 recommendations Cambodia noted.
Cambodia officially accepted 173 out of 198 recommendations and noted 25 last week during the 41st session of the UNHRC held in Geneva, Switzerland.
The recommendations were submitted by 73 countries during the 32nd session of the UPR working group held in late January.
The 25 recommendations were classified into 10 categories.
In the first category, five countries – Germany, Croatia, Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Latvia –recommended Cambodia issue a standing invitation for all special procedures and engage constructively with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and special procedures.
“A standing invitation is an open invitation extended by a government to all thematic special procedures. By extending a standing invitation, states announce that they will always accept requests to visit from all special procedures,” the OHCHR states.
Special procedures refer to either an individual called a “Special Rapporteur” or an “Independent Expert”, or a “Working Group” composed of five members.
As part of their working methods, mandate-holders undertake country visits to examine the human rights situation at the national level, according to the OHCHR.
“The Royal Government does not have the policy to issue standing invitations. We reserve our right to welcome all visits by the UN special procedures of all thematic mandates based on actual circumstances."
“In fact, there have been several visits made by Special Rapporteurs and thematic working groups of the special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council,” the government said of the rejection.
Cambodia Human Rights Committee spokesperson Chin Malin on Tuesday said the Kingdom had never rejected any UN special procedure, but as a sovereign country, it had the right to permit or reject any such visit.
Freedom of expression
Another set of recommendations urging Cambodia to repeal the provisions of the Criminal Code with regards to freedom of expression was made by six countries.
They said the provisions could be used to restrict the freedoms of expression, assembly and association, as well as decriminalise offences such as defamation.
However, the government responded: “The Cambodian Criminal Code does not hinder freedoms of expression and peaceful and legal assembly. The code provides for the punishment of offenders who violate the law and human rights.”
It said defamation was not subject to imprisonment, but it was a criminal offence that could incur a fine.
The government stated that there were many media outlets in Cambodia, and they were free to publish without prior censorship or restrictions from the government.
Cambodia also noted recommendations by Australia, Austria and Brazil to amend political, NGO and trade union laws.
They said Cambodia should ensure that all such laws were consistent with a state’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The US, Canada and New Zealand urged Cambodia to release Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha from a charge of treason and reinstate his Supreme Court-dissolved party.
They also called for the unconditional rehabilitation of the 118 former CNRP members banned from politics following the party’s dissolution in 2017.
“What Cambodia has done is based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law in order to safeguard the security and public order like every other established democratic nation,” Cambodia responded.
France and Canada recommended the Kingdom establish mechanisms to settle land disputes and adopt measures to prevent the unlawful eviction of Cambodians from their land.
However, Cambodia said it already had mechanisms in place to resolve such problems. It said there were no cases of people being evicted from legally owned land.
The government said all relocations came with compensation based on the market price for those who legally owned the land, with the provision of appropriate compensation for those who legally occupied land but had no documents proving ownership. The principles were based on mutual consent.
Two countries recommended the Kingdom rein in the excessive power of the executive branch to influence the work of judges and prosecutors by amending relevant laws.
However, Cambodia said the executive did not interfere with the legal system.
In rejecting Finland’s recommendation urging the amendment of the telecommunications law and inter-ministerial prakas on the control of websites and social media, Cambodia said the law was created to protect the rights of users and their privacy.
Chak Sopheap, the executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said it was encouraging to see that the majority of recommendations had been accepted by Cambodia.
She encouraged the government to take concrete measures to ensure the effective implementation of all accepted recommendations.
“It is disheartening that the government decided to note certain recommendations regarding the amendment of laws which currently excessively restrict fundamental freedoms and some recommendations regarding media freedoms,” Sopheap said.
The government could still improve the human rights situation in the noted recommendations, she added.