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UN council to discuss 'deteriorating' rights situation in Cambodia

The 22nd session of the U.N. Human Rights Council met in Geneva on Feb. 25, 2013. AFP
The 22nd session of the U.N. Human Rights Council met in Geneva on Feb. 25, 2013. AFP

UN council to discuss 'deteriorating' rights situation in Cambodia

The United Nations Human Rights Council is expected to hear strong criticism of Cambodia's government at a Thursday meeting in Geneva that will include statements from NGOs concerned about increasing repression of politicians and civil society.

The UN typically uses the session on technical assistance and capacity building to highlight progress in specific countries. It will also address the months-long downturn in Cambodia, said Laila Matar, a deputy director at Human Rights Watch responsible for monitoring the United Nations.

They "will touch on moves by the Hun Sen government in advance of July elections including the arrest of the leader of the opposition, dissolution of the main opposition party, prosecution and jailing of human rights defenders and politicians, and closure or censorship independent media,” she said in an email.

In recent months, authorities have arrested opposition party leader Kem Sokha, with his Cambodia National Rescue Party subsequently dissolved. Many of the opposition party's members have fled the country fearing arrest, and the courts have targeted a host of rights advocates with charges widely believed politically motivated. Independent newspaper the Cambodia Daily was also shuttered in September after receiving a $6.3 million tax bill, and the Ministry of Information took more than a dozen radio stations broadcasting Voice of America and Radio Free Asia content off the air.

Matt Pollard, who will represent the International Commission of Jurists at the session, said the UN Secretary General and High Commissioner for Human Rights had already “expressed deep concerns about the repression of democratic and civic space in Cambodia.”

“The discussions this week are a key opportunity for the international community to send a strong message to the Government of Cambodia that it must immediately restore respect for human rights through concrete action, and that the upcoming elections in July cannot be seen as credible unless this happens,” he said.

Amnesty International is also expected to speak. In its report, which the organisation’s Olof Blomqvist said would be presented at the session, the NGO criticises the suppression of political opponents and attacks on civil society and the media. They recommend holding an urgent debate in the Council to address what it described as "the deteriorating human rights situation in Cambodia.”

“The 37th session provides one last opportunity for the Council to address this deteriorating human rights situation before the Cambodian general elections, scheduled for 29 July 2018,” Amnesty said.

The UN's deputy high commissioner for human rights, Kate Gilmore, is expected to present the Secretary-General’s report on Cambodia, which notes a “continued escalation in political tensions and curtailment of civic space” since July.

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