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Envoy urges quicker reform

Envoy urges quicker reform

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UN Special Rapporteur Surya Subedi speaks at a press conference held at the OHCHR office in Phnom Penh yesterday.

Surya Subedi, the United Nations special rapporteur for human rights, said he was encouraged after a 10-day fact-finding visit to the Kingdom, but urged the government to hasten reforms in a number of areas.

Subedi focused his fourth trip to Cambodia on parliament, saying that the peace process set in motion by the Paris Peace Accords “cannot be regarded as complete until the democratic institutions created under the Constitution are able to work effectively and independently”.

Subedi said he was “encouraged by the realisation on the part of the government” that there is a need to address problems in the judiciary, the issue of freedom of expression and with the numerous land disputes across the country.  

In a sign that Subedi has retained a measure of goodwill from the government, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan characterised the visit as “very fruitful” and the relationship between the special rapporteur and the government as a “partnership”.

“We shared with him [that] we understand the concern about the judiciary system,” Phay Siphan said. “The government already [stated] its own concern already, but we need time for people to understand the law, implement the law and enforce the law.”

Nevertheless Subedi expressed particular concern for issues related to land and housing, freedom of expression and the overall process of democratic reform.

“One of the messages that I have been trying to convey for some time is to accelerate the process of reform and the democratisation process.”

Subedi urged the government to completely decriminalise defamation and falsification of information.  “Criticism is not a crime but an exercise of freedom of conscience, an act of intelligence,” he said.

He also said he was concerned “by the use of the crime of incitement against human rights defenders”, a charge that has been brought in multiple land disputes.

Subedi said the draft NGO law was unnecessary based on his review of current laws. “Strictly speaking as a lawyer, a new law is not legally required,” he said, echoing concerns raised by donors and NGOs.

He said however it was the government’s prerogative to pass legislation, and urged them to consult widely and bring the law in line with international human rights obligations.

“That should be a matter for debate and dialogue and consultation and I hope that the Ministry of Interior will engage in wider consultation to make sure that the law conforms to international standards.”

Subedi defended the local Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which the government said it would close when its mandate expires at the end of the year.

“Many of my government interlocutors have said to me that they value and appreciate the work the office is doing,” he said.

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