Cambodia has again deferred a litany of key recommendations to improve its human rights standing that were proffered by other states at a review earlier this year.
Back in front of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva yesterday, the government also rejected four recommendations it had initially accepted, a move which an international rights federation described as “unprecedented behaviour”. Another four previously agreed measures were deferred.
The decision now lowers the number of accepted recommendations from 171 in January, when the review was held, to 163.
Every UN member state must regularly undergo the Universal Periodic Review process, which sees other states review its rights record and offer specific recommendations to improve it.
Cambodia was offered 205 recommendations at its review in January and was criticised at the time for deferring 34 of them, including lifting restrictions on peaceful demonstrations, formulating clear instructions on the use of firearms by security forces in line with human rights standards and “impartially” investigating excessive force used by authorities against protesters.
Yesterday, as January’s review was formally adopted, Cambodia chose to take those recommendations “on notice”, rather than accepting them, after having been given almost five months to consider their position and respond.
“These recommendations are noted and are under consideration among the inter-ministerial [sic] in order to make sure they reflect the situation on the ground and [are] in line with national, regional situation,” Cambodia said in an addendum to the UPR report.
Accepted recommendations relate to issues including improving detention conditions, increased cooperation with UN rights bodies, eliminating child labour, judicial reform and the creation of a national human rights body.
The government also accepted some recommendations related to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and protecting human rights defenders, despite deferring others that touch on similar themes.
Key donor states present at the council yesterday voiced disappointment with Cambodia’s decision to defer so many recommendations.
The US delegation criticised Cambodia’s “lack of respect” for freedom of assembly and the “harassment” of trade union activists, while noting “with disappointment” that Cambodia had not accepted its recommendation to repeal or amend certain articles of the Penal Code relating to defamation.
The UK delegation said it “strongly encouraged” the government to agree to its recommendations that an urgent review of economic land concessions take place before the current moratorium is lifted.
It also urged the government to comply with another recommendation to “ensure the draft cybercrime law does not curtail freedom of expression”.
According to Nicolas Agostini, UN delegate for the International Federation for Human Rights, which represents local rights groups Adhoc and Licadho, “by ‘un-accepting’ recommendations it had previously accepted, [Cambodia] is setting a new low” for the UPR.
“By refusing to respond to recommendations to investigate cases of use of excessive force against protesters, including killings, the Cambodian government is unambiguously saying that its officials and affiliates can act with impunity,” he said in an email.
But Ney Samol, Cambodia’s permanent representative to the UN, said the acceptance of 163 recommendations “reflects further strong commitment and seriousness that Cambodia has made, [is making] and will continue to make towards the promotion and protection of human rights”.
Soun Bunsak, executive secretary of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, said that he was somewhat optimistic that the government, despite deferring several recommendations, would make more of an effort to implement them this time around.
“To me, I see that the ruling party has been losing more seats in the National Assembly, so I think … they might try to make the effective implementation of those recommendations so that they can gain back popularity from the population.”
In a statement, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights said the government appeared to be taking “a more realistic approach” this time, after failing to implement any of the recommendations it accepted in 2009.
“That being said, it is within the power of the Cambodian government to put into effect all of these recommendations; the RGC just needs the political will to do so,” CCHR freedom of expression project coordinator Ramana Sorn said.