Press ReleaseCambodia’s First Universal Periodic Review: A Lengthy List of Human Rights Challenges Ahead for the Country Hiding behind the ‘Retrospective of the Past’
December 2, 2009 - The first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Cambodia was conducted by the UN Human Rights Council in its Working Group session held on Tuesday 1 December 2009 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The UPR is a new mechanism that allows a review of the human rights records of all 192 UN member States once every four years. During the 3-hour proceedings of yesterday, the Cambodian delegation led by Mr. Ith Rady, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Justice together with Ambassador Sun Suon of the Permanent Representative of Cambodia to the UN in Geneva, presented the achievements and developments with regard to the human rights situation in the country, extensively focusing on its poverty reduction strategies and plans in particular. The Cambodian delegation, however, attempted much to emphasise ‘its own historical and socioeconomic context’ as a least developed country in a post-conflict setting, rather than recognising the reality of its human rights challenges in a frank and substantive manner.
“The Cambodian delegation unabashedly asserted that land grabbing is not the policy of the government. The statement, which was not followed by any concrete pledges to resolve the matters, only shows that the government failed to proactively address those unequivocal concerns of the international community over the land-related issues such as economic land concessions, forced evictions and land and resources disputes, etc. as well as their severe impact on human rights, education and health of an increasing number of victims.” said Dr. Pung Chhiv Kek, President of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO). “We urge that the Cambodian government to immediately adopt a moratorium on evictions till all concerned families are guaranteed to get appropriate compensation and housing with access to basic services in resettlement areas.”
“We cannot but question whether the Cambodian delegation was serious when expressing its hope that the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) will become a model court for future judicial systems not only in Cambodia but also for the world. The ECCC have faced persistent allegations of corruption and political interference undermining the independence of their work. The Cambodian government should open their eyes to the real problems surrounding the ECCC, not hiding itself in its own intoxicated legacy.” said Mr. Thun Saray, President of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC).
Meanwhile, the member States participating in the interactive dialogue of yesterday appreciated some of the progress made in Cambodia with respect to economic development, poverty reduction, institutional frameworks for human rights such as complaints-receiving bodies, abolishment of death penalty as well as other various initiatives for legislations and legal reforms. At the same time, a series of concerns and critical comments were raised on the pressing human rights issues in Cambodia, inter alia, forced evictions, independence of the judiciary, freedom of assembly and expression, restriction and intimidation of human rights defenders, the media and political opponents, pre-trial detention, urban and rural inequality, violence against women, worst forms of child labour. The recent incidents of lifting of parliamentary immunity from the National Assembly members were also addressed by many countries.
“We welcome those pin-pointing recommendations with regard to the situation of freedom of expression in the country. It is with deep regret that the Cambodian delegation merely repeated that freedom of expression is enshrined in the Constitution as one of fundamental rights while asserting the government would not tolerate social disorder or endangering national unity and security.” said the Executive Director of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA).
Key recommendations put forward to Cambodia at the UPR Working Group include among others:
1. Fully implement the 2001 Land Law and institute a moratorium on evictions until safeguards such as prior consultation, full compensation and access to basic services and infrastructure in relocation areas can be guaranteed;
2. Strengthen the efforts to protect the freedom of expression and the rights of human rights defenders, journalists and trade unions by way of safeguarding their freedom of assembly and association;
3. Define the scope of defamation and disinformation charges to ensure that the recent approved Penal Code not be abused to infringe the freedom of expression;
4. Ensure the independence and impartiality of the judicial system and take measures to ensure everyone’s equal access to justice;
5. Ensure all allegations of corruption be immediately investigated by an independent mechanism;
6. Intensify its efforts against domestic and sexual violence against women, inter alia in the context of human trafficking, by addressing the root causes of the problems such as gender-based poverty and by developing gender-sensitive poverty reduction strategies;
7. Intensify the public expenditure to enhance the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, considering the current low public expenditure which makes only 3.5 % of the GDP;
8. Pay special attention to the needs of vulnerable groups such as women in rural areas, children, persons with disabilities, the elderly, indigenous and ethnic communities by creating necessary condition for their access to basic education, medical and other social services;
9. Revise the laws on trade unions and establish a labor court in an effort to guarantee respect for workers’ rights and to provide legal and efficient solutions to labor disputes;
10. Conduct a broad consultation with civil society in follow-up process of the UPR outcome and ensure the proposed NGO Law do not create more difficulties to the work environment of civil society;
11. Advance the process of establishing an independent and competent national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles and in consultation with all relevant stakeholders;
12. Promote human rights education and training at all levels including for judges, prosecutors and government officials;
13. Extend standing invitations to all special procedures and accept the existing country visit requests made by the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers and the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
“As recommended by many States, again we stress that an independent judiciary is key to fight corruption and end impunity for human rights violations.” said Mr. Souhayr Belhasse, President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). “The UPR Working Group’s report on Cambodia will be adopted at the next regular session of the Human Rights Council in March 2010. We call on the Cambodian government to publicise and disseminate widely the comments and recommendations in the country. We will be closely monitoring whether the government takes genuine steps to follow up and implement the recommendations contained in the report.”
For more information, please contact:
• Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Giyoun Kim, +41 795957931
• International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Samuel Dansette, +41 789560046
• (Phnom Penh)
• Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), Thun Saray, +855 23218653
• Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), Naly Pilorge, +855 23727102