A man holds a replica of the scales of justice during a protest by members of the Boeung Kak and Borei Keila communities yesterday in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post
A pair of reports to be presented at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva today and tomorrow paint a bleak image of a country whose rights record has worsened considerably over the past year.
An annual report from the Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) in Cambodia, due to be presented on Wednesday, highlights crackdowns on freedom of expression, an increasing desperation over land issues and a culture of impunity that has hardly abated.
Special rapporteur Surya Subedi’s annual report, meanwhile, which was published late last month and details the high “human cost” of land concessions, will be delivered today.
A number of government and NGO reports will also be heard over the next two days during the 21st session of the council, at which Cambodian expatriates and rights defenders plan to stage demonstrations.
The OHCHR report, released yesterday, details a number of rights violations pegged to alarming trends including the increased use of violence by both demonstrators and security forces and “rapid arbitrary convictions of human rights defenders”.
“Of particular concern is the trend towards an increased and disproportionate use of force, including the use of live ammunition against protesters, by State authorities and private security guards as a means to control protesters,” it notes in a long section on fundamental freedoms. “These instances of violence were predominantly unprovoked, and primarily related to land disputes.”
The report touches on rights issues ranging from elections to prison reforms and the Khmer Rouge tribunal, but many of its strongest critiques relate to land issues.
“Owing to the uneven application of the relatively well-developed legal framework governing land and housing rights, demonstrations and protests by affected communities in the capital and provinces became increasingly common,” the office points out before highlighting a shift in the tactics of protesters who have grown more violent and destructive, reflecting “the increasing frustration of the landless population”.
The OHCHR report is expected to be presented a day after Subedi’s, scheduled to be heard tonight.
Speaking by phone yesterday, Om Yentieng, head of the government’s Cambodian Human Rights Commission, downplayed the contents of the Subedi report, which made repeated note of the flaws of the National Election Committee.
“I don’t know if his [Surya Subedi’s] report came before or after the opposition party’s comment [on NEC reform]. If after the opposition party, it means he should be an adviser to the opposition party,” he said.
According to Yentieng, Cambodian diplomats based in Geneva will attend the sessions. He declined to provide details on the contents of the reports to be presented by Cambodia, but the Council of Ministers last month said that seven reports penned by his commission and touching on torture as well as the rights of women and children, among other topics, would be delivered.
Spokesman for the Council of Ministers, Phay Siphan, defended the country’s rights record over the past year, insisting the government was constantly working to advance conditions in Cambodia.
“We still improve day to day the basic way of the people’s life and the government,” he said. “Even in the US they do have abuse … Human rights is a new culture for everyone on this earth, especially for Cambodia, [which is] in transformation. We need time to grow.”
“No one is perfect in this world,” he added.