THE United Nation’s rights envoy to Cambodia appeared at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday to present a yearly report on the state of human rights in the Kingdom.
Land rights, freedom of expression and the state of the courts dominated the address given by Surya Subedi, the UN’s special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, who said that despite “noteworthy progress” in certain areas, the country still has a long way to go to meet international standards.
“Cambodia has established institutions to promote and protect human rights, but violations of human rights continue to take place,” he said.
“I also am concerned about the narrowing of political space in the country for people belonging to the opposition political parties and other political activists.”
In his address, Subedi highlighted shortcomings in the justice system, noting that those affected by a wave of land disputes and conflicts could not count on the courts and seemed to be “desperate for justice”.
He also criticised the conviction last week of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for falsifying maps and spreading disinformation. Subedi urged that any appeal in Sam Rainsy’s case be conducted with “utmost attention to due process and the principles of a fair trial”.
Cambodia’s ambassador to the UN, Sun Suon, responded by saying that Cambodia welcomed Subedi’s engagement, but that it had already taken steps on rights issues.
“On legal and judicial reform, the government has accelerated the legislative process,” he said. On land issues, he said, the government had “further committed to its current agenda, that aims at solving land disputes in a comprehensive manner”.
He also addressed criticism that the government had restricted freedom of expression, saying that “the exercise of the right must be carried with special duty and responsibility”.
Western nations and rights groups present at Tuesday’s hearing largely agreed with Subedi’s main observations. The delegate from Human Rights Watch noted the recent “tightening of space for civil society, freedom of expression and peaceful political opposition”.
Sally Dawkins, representing Australia, said the country “strongly supported” the rapporteur’s focus on the rule of law and the state of the courts, and Michael Meier, from Switzerland, noted the “major challenges” that remained.
Asian nations, however, dwelled more on the country’s achievements. Evan P Garcia, from the Philippines, criticised Subedi’s approach for not being more “forward looking”, and hailed the government’s efforts to improve the rights situation.
Yim Sovann, spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party, said he hoped the hearing would spur positive change in Cambodia.
“We want real measures – concrete action to be taken to improve the human rights situation in Cambodia,” he said.