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UNHRC releases documents on state of Cambodia

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UN Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith speaks to the press last year in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

UNHRC releases documents on state of Cambodia

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has published three documents in preparation for a review next month on the situation in Cambodia.

The UNHRC is set to review the human rights situation in the Kingdom on January 30 during the 32nd Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which is to be held from January 21 to February 1.

The UPR was last held in January 2013.

The three documents published by the UNHRC include a “Compilation on Cambodia”, a report submitted by the government and a summary of stakeholders’ submissions from rights organisations.

The stated goal of the UPR is to improve the human rights situation in every country. It was designed “to prompt, support and expand the promotion and protection of human rights on the ground”.

In the 11-page compilation document, a wide range of human rights issues were brought up and recommendations made.

The information was taken from independent human rights experts and groups, human rights treaty bodies and other UN entities.

The UNHRC has expressed concern over several reported deaths, injuries and a case of disappearance following demonstrations in Phnom Penh during the period under review – 2013 to 2018.

Addressing such concerns, the UNHRC recommended that Cambodia systematically provide training to all security forces, including security guards, on the use of force in the context of demonstrations.

It also raised concerns over what it said was the limited number of individuals brought to trial for crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge regime.

It said comments by high-ranking government officials stating that there were no more cases left to try at the UN-sponsored Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia after the guilty verdicts against former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan last month was “interference” with the functioning and independence of the tribunal.

The UNHRC expressed further concern over “a growing number of Facebook cases [that] were being tracked in which postings on social media were being used as evidence of the commission of crimes”.

It also raised concerns over reports of the harassment and intimidation of journalists, human rights defenders, trade union workers, land and environmental activists, and other civil society members.

The document detailed the case of Kem Sokha, who is currently on bail awaiting trial on treason charges, based on reports from the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

It said: “The Working Group was also of the view that Mr Kem Sokha’s arrest and detention was politically motivated.”

The document also cited a report by UNHRC Special Rapporteur on Cambodia Rhona Smith, who said that the election process in Cambodia had been improving until 2018 when it “departed from previous trends”.

“The 2018 [Cambodian national] elections represented a departure from previous trends due to the dissolution of the former main opposition party and the banning of senior members of the former opposition from political activity for five years.

“The Special Rapporteur recommended that utmost priority should be given to building a culture in which criticism, within reasonable bounds, was not only permitted but accepted and encouraged as indispensable to maintaining peace and development in the short and long term; in which the separation of powers between organs of government and the separation of state and the ruling party was respected and cherished; and in which the possibility of a peaceful change of government from one party to another through genuine elections was accepted as the norm rather than resisted,” it said.

The government submitted a 20-page-long “national report” detailing each section of human rights in the Kingdom as a response to the various criticisms.

It said Cambodia has been improving in law enforcement, the judicial system, legal reform, juvenile justice and child labour, among many other human rights areas.

However, the government said that challenges remained to be overcome in many sectors of society, including in education, agriculture, public services in the administrative and judicial sectors, and healthcare.

It said Cambodia also still needed to improve on human rights understanding among its citizens and other actors.

“The views on human rights, duties, responsibilities and laws are not consistent between rights demanders, rights users and rights defenders."

“For instance, the exercise of freedom of expression, in which the demanders, the users and the watchdogs of [human] rights have no consistent point of view, both in the scope of domestic laws and international human rights laws,” the report said.

The government said it had a strategy to address all human rights concerns, while it continued with reforms to the legal system, the strengthening of the implementation of existing laws to make them more effective.

It also said it continued to take action against corruption, improving elections, solving land conflicts and promoting the principle of “education for all”, among many other reform drives.

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