Cambodia

 

  • Outcomes & Reflections from 39th Session of UN Human Rights Council

    This session, the Council adopted landmark resolutions on several country situations, further enhancing its contribution to the protection of human rights. 

    On Myanmar, we welcome the creation of the independent investigative mechanism, which is an important step towards accountability for the horrific crimes committed in Myanmar, as elaborated in the Fact Finding Mission’s report to this session. The overwhelming support for the resolution, notwithstanding China’s shameful blocking of consensus, was a clear message to victims and survivors that the international community stands with them in their fight for justice. 

    On Yemen, the Council demonstrated that principled action is possible, and has sent a strong message to victims of human rights violations in Yemen that accountability is a priority for the international community, by voting in favor of renewing the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts to continue international investigations into violations committed by all parties to the conflict. 

    Furthermore, we welcome the leadership by a group of States on the landmark resolution on Venezuela, and consider it as an important step for the Council applying objective criteria to address country situations that warrant its attention. The resolution, adopted with support from all regions, sends a strong message of support to the Venezuelan people. By opening up a space for dialogue at the Council, the resolution brings scrutiny to the tragic human rights and humanitarian crisis unfolding in the country.  

    While we welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi, to continue its critical investigation and work towards accountability, we regret, however, that the Council failed to respond more strongly to Burundi's record of non-cooperation and attacks against the UN human rights system. 

    We also welcome the Council’s adoption of the resolution on Syria, which among other things condemns all violations and abuses of international human rights law and all violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict.

    However, on other country situations including China, Sudan, Cambodia and the Philippines, the Council failed to take appropriate action. 

    On Sudan, we are deeply concerned about the weak resolution that envisions an end to the Independent Expert’s mandate once an OHCHR office is set up; a "deal" Sudan has already indicated it does not feel bound by, and which is an abdication of the Council’s responsibility to human rights victims in Sudan while grave violations are ongoing. At a minimum, States should ensure the planned country office monitors and publicly reports on the human rights situation across Sudan, and that the High Commissioner is mandated to report to the Council on the Office’s findings.  

    We also regret the lack of concerted Council action on the Philippines, in spite of the need to establish independent international and national investigations into extrajudicial killings in the government's 'war on drugs', and to monitor and respond to the government's moves toward authoritarianism. 

    In addition, we regret the Council’s weak response to the deepening human rights and the rule of law crisis in Cambodia, failing to change its approach even when faced with clear findings by the Special Rapporteur demonstrating that the exclusive focus on technical assistance and capacity building in the country, is failing.

    We share the concerns that many raised during the session, including the High Commissioner, about China’s human rights record, specifically noting serious violations of the rights of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang province. It is regrettable that States did not make a concrete and collective call for action by China to cease the internment of estimates ranging up to 1 million individuals from these communities. 

    On thematic resolutions, we welcome the adoption of the resolution on equal participation in political and public affairs but would have preferred a stronger endorsement and implementation of the guidelines.

    The resolution on safety of journalists, adopted by consensus, sets out a clear roadmap of practical actions to end impunity for attacks. Journalism is not a crime - yet too many States in this room simply imprison those that criticize them. This must end, starting with the implementation of this resolution. 

    We welcome the adoption by consensus of the resolution on preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights in humanitarian settings. Women and girls affected by conflict have been denied accountability for too long. The implementation of this resolution will ensure that their rights, including their sexual and reproductive health and rights, are respected, protected and fulfilled. 

    Finally, the Council’s first interactive dialogue on acts of reprisals and intimidation was an important step to ensure accountability for this shameful practice, and we urge more States to have the courage and conviction to stand up for human rights defenders and call out countries that attack and intimidate them.

    Signatories:
    The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
    Amnesty International 
    Article 19
    Center for Reproductive Rights
    CIVICUS
    DefendDefenders
    FIDH
    Forum Asia 
    Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)
    Human Rights Watch 
    International Commission of Jurists
    International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

     

  • Outcomes & reflections from UN Human Rights Council

    38th Session of the Human Rights Council
    End of Session Joint Civil Society Statement

    Our organisations welcome the adoption of the resolutions on civil society space, peaceful protest, on violence against women and girls and on discrimination against women and girls and the Council’s rejection of attempts to impede progress on protecting civil society space, peaceful protest and the rights to sexual and reproductive health.

    On civil society space, the resolution recognizes the essential contribution that civil society makes to international and regional organisations and provides guidance to States and organisations on improving their engagement with civil society.  On peaceful protest, it sets out in greater detail how international law and standards protect rights related to protests. 

    On violence against women and on discrimination against women, we consider that ensuring sexual and reproductive health and rights are vital in efforts to combat violence and discrimination against women, online and offline, as well as to ensure targeted and specific remedies to victims. We appreciate that the work of women human rights defenders towards this is recognised. 

    We consider the adoption of the resolution on the contribution of the Council to the prevention of human rights violations as an important opportunity to advance substantive consideration on strengthening the Council’s ability to deliver on its prevention mandate.

    Following challenging negotiations, we welcome the adoption by consensus of the resolution on human rights and the Internet, reaffirming that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, and calling on States to tackle digital divides between and within countries, emphasising the importance of tools for anonymity and encryption for the enjoyment of human rights online, in particular for journalists, and condemning once more all measures that prevent or disrupt access to information online.

    We welcome continued Council attention to Eritrea's abysmal human rights record. This year's resolution, while streamlined, extends expert monitoring of, and reporting on, the country and outlines a way forward for both engagement and human rights reform. We urge Eritrea to engage in long-overdue meaningful cooperation. 

    We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus under item 4 with an increased vote - as it is still the only independent international mechanism to effectively monitor human rights violations in Belarus - while remaining concerned over a narrative to shift the mandate to item 10 in the absence of any systemic change in Belarus. 

    We welcome the consensus resolution on the Democratic Republic of Congo, putting in place continued monitoring and follow up on the expert’s recommendations on the Kasais. However, given violations and abuses throughout several regions in the country, occurring against the backdrop of an ongoing political crisis, delayed elections, and the brutal quashing of dissent, we urge the Council to promptly move towards putting in place a country-wide mechanism that can respond to events on the ground as they emerge.

    We welcome the strong resolution on Syria, which condemns violations and abuses by all parties, and appropriately addresses concerns raised by the COI about the use of chemical weapons, sexual and gender-based violence, and the need to address situations of detainees and disappearances. The Council cannot stay silent in the face of continued atrocities as the conflict continues unabated into its seventh year.

    We welcome the joint statements delivered this session on Cambodia, the Philippines,and Venezuela. We urge Council members and observes to work towards increased collective action to urgently address the dire human rights situations in these countries.  

    On the Philippines, we emphasise that the Council should establish an independent international investigation into extrajudicial killings in the ‘war on drugs’ and mandate the OHCHR to report on the human rights situation and on moves toward authoritarianism.  

    The joint statement on Cambodia represents a glimmer of hope after the Council's failure to take meaningful action against clear sabotage of democratic space ahead of elections. Close scrutiny of the human rights situation before, during and after the elections is paramount and the Council must take immediate action on current and future human rights violations in this regard.

    We welcome the joint statement delivered by Luxembourg  calling on the HRC President to provide short oral updates on cases of alleged intimidation or reprisal, including actions taken, at the start of the Item 5 general debate of each Council session and also provide States concerned with the opportunity to respond.

    Finally, the new Council member to replace the United States should demonstrate a principled commitment to human rights, to multilateralism and to addressing country situations of concern by applying objective criteria. 

    Joint Statement by Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), the Association for Progressive Communications, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project), Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF), International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 

     

  • Over 30 rights organisations call on international powers to pressure Cambodia over human rights abuses

    Joint Letter

    We call on Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, to join the EU in its call to the Cambodian government to take concrete action to address the human rights situation in the country. Repressive laws that restrict human rights and civic freedoms in Cambodia have worsened during COVID-19.


    Your excellency,

    We, the undersigned 32 civil society organizations, urge the Governments of Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America to echo the European Union (EU) in its call for the respect of human rights in Cambodia. On August 12, 2020, the EU will partially suspend Cambodia’s “Everything But Arms” (EBA) tariff preferences in response to the Cambodian government’s “serious and systematic violations” of four human and labor rights conventions: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize No. 87 (1948), the ILO Convention concerning the Application of the Principles of the Right to Organize and to Bargain Collectively, No. 98 (1949), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966).

    The Cambodian government continues to crack down on civil society, independent media, and the political opposition and human rights defenders to silence critical voices in the country. In the past three years it has adopted a series of repressive laws that unduly restrict human rights. In November 2019, the Cambodian authorities had arbitrarily detained nearly 90 people solely on the basis of the peaceful expression of their opinions or political views as well as their political affiliations. While 74 opposition members, detained on spurious charges, were released from detention in December 2019, the charges against them remain, and they risk re-arrest. Opposition leader Kem Sokha’s criminal trial for unsubstantiated treason charges has been marred by irregularities since it began in January. Sokha remains banned from politics and faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted. The Prime Minister announced that the trial could drag on into 2021.

    In April, the Cambodian government used the Covid-19 crisis to adopt an unnecessary and draconian state of emergency law that provides the authorities with broad and unfettered powers to restrict freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association – rights that have already been severely restricted during his 35 years in power. Currently, another 30 political prisoners are behind bars due to the Cambodian government’s continued onslaught on free speech in the guise of combating Covid-19.

    Cambodia committed to protecting and promoting fundamental human rights, providing equal protection of the law, and holding genuine periodic elections when it ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Cambodian government ratified all of the fundamental ILO Conventions that protect the rights of workers and trade unions. Respect for human rights and the rule of law are essential for a stable and flourishing business environment over the long term.

    Cambodia agreed that access to the EU’s Everything But Arms preferential trade scheme is conditional on adherence to the principles in 15 core human rights and labor rights conventions. The European Commission’s decision on February 12, 2020 to partially suspend Cambodia’s EBA preferences followed a yearlong process of ‘enhanced engagement’ between the EU and Cambodia during which the Cambodian government was given every opportunity to cooperate and make significant progress in improving its protection of human rights and labor rights. The European Commission concluded that Cambodia had failed to take necessary measures to retain full EBA benefits.

    We agree. For example, on January 22, 2020, 23 companies and nongovernmental organizations, including major international garment brands sourcing from Cambodia, raised concerns about the labor rights situation and urged the government to amend or repeal two deeply problematic laws, the Trade Union Law and the Law on Associations and NGOs (LANGO), and drop all outstanding criminal charges against union leaders. The government’s tokenistic amendments to the repressive Trade Union Law fell considerably short of what was required to address that issue. More broadly, the government has demonstrated an unwillingness to take concrete and meaningful steps to improve the rights situation; to the contrary, Cambodia adopted further repressive laws and arrested more peaceful critics during the intensive monitoring and evaluation process.

    We therefore call on Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, acting collectively and bilaterally, to echo the EU in its call to the Cambodian government to take concrete action without delay, including but not limited to the following, to address the human rights situation in the country:

    1. Immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners, including activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and members of the political opposition.
    2. Cease harassment, arbitrary arrests, and physical attacks against union leaders, land activists, human rights defenders, opposition members, and journalists.
    3. Immediately drop the baseless treason charges against opposition leader Kem Sokha.
    4. Conduct independent, impartial, prompt and thorough investigations into attacks, including killings, against critics of the government and hold those responsible to account. For example, the Cambodian government should establish an independent Commission of Inquiry to conduct an effective investigation into the extrajudicial killing of political commentator and human rights defender Dr. Kem Ley in July 2016.
    5. Repeal the Law on the Management of the Nation in State of Emergency.
    6. Reverse the three rounds of amendments to the Law on Political Parties that permit the arbitrary dissolution of political parties and ban party leaders from political activity without due process.
    7. Significantly amend the Trade Union Law in consultation with workers, labor advocates and other stakeholders to bring it into full compliance with ILO Conventions No. 87 (Freedom of Association) and No. 98 (Right to Organize and Collectively Bargain), both ratified by Cambodia.
    8. Repeal or significantly amend the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO), which violates Cambodia’s obligations under international human rights law.
    9. Cease the government’s arbitrary interference and surveillance of the online and offline media and end the use of repressive laws to censor and control independent media.
    10. Restore the work of the Arbitration Council by enabling it to hear all labour disputes, including termination of union leaders, and guaranteeing unrestricted access to all workers, irrespective of union status.
    11. Ensure prompt, fair and transparent resolution of all land conflicts by providing fair compensation to victims of land grabbing and introduce an effective and fair system of land titling, while ending the harassment of land rights activists and affected communities.
    12. Cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Special Procedures in order to allow them to fulfil their mandates without interference.

    The Cambodian government should take meaningful measures that reverse the deterioration of Cambodia’s human rights situation in order to restore trade preferences or lift suspensions of bilateral aid.

    We urge your government to call on the Cambodian government to comply with its obligations under international human rights law and to support the EU in its efforts to bring respect for human rights, rule of law, and democracy to the Cambodian people.

    Yours sincerely,

    Arab Network for Food Sovereignty - Regional
    Article 19
    ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
    Asian Democracy Network (ADN)
    Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)
    Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)
    Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC)
    Civil Rights Defenders
    CIVICUS
    Clean Clothes Campaign East Asia
    EarthRights International
    Fair Labor Association (FLA)
    FIAN Germany
    Forest Peoples’ Programme
    Front Line Defenders
    Global Witness
    Human Rights Now (HRN)
    Human Rights Watch (HRW)
    International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)
    International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek
    People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) - Europe
    People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) - Global
    Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific - Regional
    Roots for Equity, Pakistan
    Struggle to Economize Future Environment (SEFE), Cameroon
    The B Team
    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
    Zambia Social Forum


    Civic space in Cambodia is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • Reaction to human rights resolution on Cambodia

    42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    Response to resolution on Cambodia

    CIVICUS welcomes the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia in a resolution which was passed by consensus today. As the country’s human rights situation is deteriorating and space for freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association is decreasing, international scrutiny is more important than ever. 

    However, the resolution was also a missed opportunity for the Human Rights Council to push for substantive change on the ground. At a time when the human rights situation in the country is regressing, a strong resolution providing for enhanced monitoring and reporting mechanisms would have shown that the Council will not accept sustained violations of fundamental freedoms. 

    ‘This resolution does not go far enough towards bringing to account the perpetrators of human rights violations, or to provide a remedy for victims and their families,’ said Lisa Majumdar, Advocacy Officer with CIVICUS. 

    ‘Cambodia’s human rights situation has deteriorated over the past four years and international action so far has been inadequate. This resolution could have an important moment to step up scrutiny of the authorities and show Cambodian human rights defenders that they are not alone.  Instead it sends a signal that the Cambodian government can continue to violate rights with impunity’, said Lisa Majumdar.

    We welcome the acknowledgement in the resolution of the ‘chilling effect’ over civil society and independent voices following the murder of human rights defender and analyst Dr Kem Ley, although disappointed that the resolution did not name him, and we reiterate calls for a full, independent and transparent investigation into his death. Such a chilling affect has been compounded by repressive laws, misuse of the justice system, online and offline intimidation, and the shutdown of independent media outlets.

    However, we are concerned by references in the resolution to Cambodia’s ‘efforts and progress’ in enforcing basic laws such as the criminal code and the criminal procedure code. Not only should this be a baseline standard to meet, but there are multiple cases of Cambodian courts continuing to misuse both laws in order to judicially harass and in some cases imprison human rights defenders, land activists, and opposition supporters. Cambodia’s manipulation of the justice system to serve political goals should be the subject of reform, not praise.

    The Special Rapporteur on Cambodia presented her latest report to the Council earlier this week. The report detailed the regression in the country’s political situation as well as some steps it has taken towards meeting sustainable development goals and outlining recommendations. 

    We call on the Cambodian government to restore full fundamental freedoms in line with the report's recommendations, and to implement recommendations from its UPR held earlier this year.

     

  • Statement to the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights: Countries on the civic space watchlist

    37th Session of the Human Rights Council
    Oral statement at Interactive Dialogue with UN High Commissioner on Human Rights

    CIVICUS commends the High Commissioner for his report, and for his commitment to standing alongside victims of the world's most egregious human rights violations by continuously bringing attention of their plight to this Council.

    Mr President, CIVICUS shares the High Commissioner's grave concern over growing restrictions on civic space in Cambodia, Cameroon, Poland, Tanzania and Honduras. We note that these five countries have been placed on the CIVICUS Monitor's Watch List, which draws attention to countries where there are serious and ongoing threats to civic space.

    In Cameroon, reports of renewed violence against protesters have emerged as the authorities have shut down internet access in Anglophone regions of the country. The government has also taken sharp measures to control and limit freedom of expression by suspending journalists’ activities and radio and television stations’ operations.

    In the run-up to Cambodia’s 2018 general elections, the government has attempted to silence the opposition and suppress civic space, shutting down independent media and arresting activists. Repression of dissenting voices makes it highly unlikely that elections will take place in a transparent and democratic manner.

    Poland’s current trajectory has caused grave concern as the government seeks to restrict civil and political freedoms and control the judiciary and civil society organisations. Worringly, a new body closely related to the office of the president has been created to control the flow of funding to civil society organisations, which could result in only pro-government groups being funded.

    Peaceful protests following Honduras´ recent elections, which were criticised by the opposition and international observers, were met by security forces using excessive force. Several protesters were killed and many others injured and arbitrarily detained.

    Tanzania has remained on the Monitor Watch List and CIVICUS echoes the High Commissioner’s concern over the authorities’ unrelenting attacks on the media, civil society and the LGBTI community in particular.

    Mr President, restrictions on civic space are often a bellwether for further violations of human rights and allow states to act with impunity. CIVICUS asks the High Commissioner how his office intends to support local civil society fighting for human rights on the ground to respond to this global crackdown.

     

  • Statement: Cambodia's adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

    41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    CIVICUS, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and IFEX welcome the Royal Government of Cambodia's engagement with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.

    In our joint UPR Submission, we documented that since its last review, Cambodia has failed to fully implement any of the recommendations it accepted relating to civic space and fundamental freedoms. We welcome the government’s acceptance of a number of recommendations received in this cycle to strengthen respect for freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly and to protect human rights defenders. The Royal Government of Cambodia must now take concrete steps to promptly and meaningfully implement these recommendations in order to restore civic space, which has been drastically undermined in recent years.

    The legal framework currently in place contravenes Cambodia’s obligations under international human rights law. Laws and provisions are routinely misapplied to restrict freedom of association, undermine civil society, and criminalize individual’s exercise of their right to freedom of expression. We are disappointed that the government of Cambodia explicitly decided not to accept certain recommendations to amend or repeal repressive laws, including the Law on Political Parties, the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations and the Trade Union Law.

    Human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists are routinely subject to judicial harassment and legal action. While we welcome the release of human rights defenders and journalists from detention in 2018, we are concerned that many were released on bail with cases still pending against them.

    Media outlets perceived as critical towards the government have been subjected to a severe crackdown in 2017 and 2018, through threats and sanctions including shutdowns, which significantly curtail citizens’ access to information. We encourage the Royal Government of Cambodia to promptly implement the recommendations it accepted related the independence of the media, and we urge the government to re-create an enabling environment for a free and pluralistic media, including by ceasing judicial harassment against journalists, and abuse of tax regulations to harass media outlets and associations (even though Cambodia decided to note the recommendation received in this regard).

    Mr President, we recognize the importance of this review as a first step to address the deterioration of respect for human rights in Cambodia. We now call on the Royal Government of Cambodia to take proactive and immediate measures to restore civic space, foster a free and enabling environment for civil society, and ensure that all Cambodians can freely exercise their fundamental freedoms.

     

  • UN Human Rights Council falls short of action needed on Cambodia’s human rights crisis

    Resolution on Cambodia adopted at the 48th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council

    The Human Rights Council has renewed the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, but the resolution adopted by the Council today does not reflect nor adequately address the escalating political and human rights crisis in the country.

    With Cambodia’s main opposition party dissolved in 2017 and its politicians barred from politics, the fragile veneer of democracy engendered by the Paris Peace Accords has disintegrated, leaving the country a de facto one-party state. 

    The resolution mandates one additional update by the Special Rapporteur to the Council in March 2022, which will allow for further scrutiny of the country ahead of the communal election, set for June 2022. A second additional update, set for March 2023 ahead of the national elections in June that same year, was removed from the draft resolution shortly before its adoption.

    ‘It is disappointing that the resolution does not reach the bare minimum needed to address the ongoing deterioration of human rights in Cambodia,’ said Cornelius Hanung, Asia Advocacy Officer for CIVICUS. ‘The human rights situation in the country has drastically deteriorated since the last time this resolution was negotiated in 2019, and conditions for free and fair elections are fundamentally and conspicuously absent. There is no sign of domestic or international political will to address this.’

    Calls from civil society for enhanced monitoring and reporting by the High Commissioner were not considered.

    ‘Free and fair elections depend not only on the ability of political parties to participate, but also on press freedom, the ability to dissent without fear of harassment and reprisals, and on civil society being able to organize and assemble,’ said Cornelius Hanung. ‘But we consistently see repressive laws and judicial harassment used in Cambodia to restrict civic freedoms, undermine and weaken civil society, and criminalize individuals for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of peaceful assembly.’

    Cambodia has consistently cited its constructive engagement with the Human Rights Council to pre-empt stronger action, such as additional monitoring, to address its human rights crisis. 

    ‘Attacks against the Special Rapporteur and his mandate by Cambodia during the Interactive Dialogue to his report represented just the latest example of ‘constructive engagement,’ which to date has been minimal at best and weaponized by Cambodia at worst,’ said Cornelius Hanung. ‘Human rights defenders and those calling for democratic reform on the ground can no longer afford for the Council to seek consensus resolutions at the expense of their protection.’

    The adoption of the resolution under the Council’s technical cooperation and capacity-building Item ensures that Cambodia stays on the Council’s agenda for a further two years. CIVICUS maintains its call for the Council to establish a robust monitoring mechanism to adequately assess and address the human rights crisis and further election-related violations.


    Civic space in Cambodia is rated 'repressed' by the CIVICUS Monitor. 

     

  • UN must address crises in Afghanistan and Cambodia, and commit to strengthening equal participation

    Statement at the 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

    Thank you, Madame President.

    We welcome that the High Commissioner raised the appalling situation for environmental human rights defenders and we call on the Council to address violations against all human rights defenders across the globe. Participation of civil society without fear of reprisal is vital to working collaboratively towards solutions to all human rights concerns.

    We further call on the Council this Session to strengthen equal participation by addressing repression of civic space and the rollback of democratic freedoms in response to the COVID pandemic. This includes particularly violations of access to information and freedoms of expression and assembly through internet shutdowns, and in the context of elections.

    We welcome the High Commissioner’s update on Afghanistan and reiterate a call for the Council to create a gender-sensitive, independent investigative mechanism. The courage of those calling for justice on the ground, at grave personal risk, cannot be overstated and it is vital that their efforts be supported by the international community.

    In Nicaragua, we call for the immediate release of arbitrarily detained political opposition leaders, human rights defenders and journalists, and for overdue electoral reforms. We welcome the High Commissioner’s update on Sri Lanka; ongoing shrinking civic space in the country undermines claims of reconciliation and accountability efforts.

    On Cambodia, in the midst of a dramatically worsening human rights situation including persisting restrictions on civic space and the repression of dissent, and ahead of elections scheduled for 2022 and 2023, it is imperative that the Council this session takes action to adequately address violations through mandating monitoring and reporting by the High Commissioner.

    We thank you.


    Civic space in Afghanistan, Cambodia and Nicaragua is rated as repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • UN resolution needed to help address human rights crisis in Cambodia

    To Members and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council

    Dear Excellency,

    The undersigned civil society organizations, representing groups working within and outside Cambodia to advance human rights, rule of law, and democracy, are writing to alert your government to an ongoing human rights crisis in Cambodia and to request your support for a resolution ensuring strengthened scrutiny of the human rights situation in the country at the upcoming 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council (the “Council”).

    National elections in July 2018 were conducted after the Supreme Court, which lacks independence, dissolved the major opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). Many believe that this allowed the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) under Prime Minister Hun Sen to secure all 125 seats in the National Assembly and effectively establish one-party rule. Since the election, respect for human rights in Cambodia has further declined. Key opposition figures remain either in detention – such as CNRP leader Kem Sokha, who is under de factohouse arrest – or in self-imposed exile out of fear of being arrested. The CNRP is considered illegal and 111 senior CNRP politicians remain banned from engaging in politics. Many others have continued to flee the country to avoid arbitrary arrest and persecution.

    Government authorities have increasingly harassed opposition party members still in the country, with more than 147 former CNRP members summoned to court or police stations. Local authorities have continued to arrest opposition members and activists on spurious charges. The number of prisoners facing politically motivated charges in the country has remained steady since the election. The government has shuttered almost all independent media outlets and totally controls national TV and radio stations. Repressive laws – including the amendments to the Law on Political Parties, the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations, and the Law on Trade Unions – have resulted in severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

    It is expected that a resolution will be presented at the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council in September to renew the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia for another two years. We strongly urge your delegation to ensure that the resolution reflects the gravity of the situation in the country and requests additional monitoring and reporting by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Mandated OHCHR monitoring of the situation and reporting to the Council, in consultation with the Special Rapporteur, would enable a comprehensive assessment of the human rights situation in Cambodia, identification of concrete actions that the government needs to take to comply with Cambodia’s international human rights obligations, and would allow the Council further opportunities to address the situation.

    Since the last Council resolution was adopted in September 2017, the situation of human rights in Cambodia, including for the political opposition, human rights defenders, and the media, has drastically worsened. Developments since the 2018 election include:

    Crackdown on Political Opposition

    On March 12, 2019, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued arrest warrants for eight leading members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party who had left Cambodia ahead of the July 2018 election – Sam Rainsy, Mu Sochua, Ou Chanrith, Eng Chhai Eang, Men Sothavarin, Long Ry, Tob Van Chan, and Ho Vann. The charges were based on baseless allegations of conspiring to commit treason and incitement to commit a felony. In September 2018, authorities transferred CNRP head Kem Sokha after more than a year of pre-trial detention in a remote prison to his Phnom Penh residence under highly restrictive “judicial supervision” that amounts to house arrest. Cambodian law has no provision for house arrest and there is no evidence that Sokha has committed any internationally recognizable offense.

    During 2019, at least 147 arbitrary summonses were issued by the courts and police against CNRP members or supporters. Summonses seen by human rights groups lack legal specifics, containing only vague references to allegations that the person summoned may have violated the Supreme Court ruling that dissolved the CNRP in November 2017.

    Human Rights Defenders and Peaceful Protesters

    In November 2018, Prime Minister Hun Sen stated that criminal charges would be dropped against all trade union leaders related to the government’s January 2014 crackdown on trade unions and garment workers in which security forces killed five people. However, the following month, a court convicted six union leaders – Ath Thorn, Chea Mony, Yang Sophorn, Pav Sina, Rong Chhun, and Mam Nhim – on baseless charges and fined them. An appeals court overturned the convictions in May 2019, but in July 2019 the court announced its verdict in absentia convicting Kong Atith, newly elected president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU), of intentional acts of violence in relation to a 2016 protest between drivers and the Capitol Bus Company. The court imposed a three-year suspended sentence, which will create legal implications under Article 20 of the Law on Trade Unions, which sets out among others that a leader of a worker union cannot have a felony or misdemeanour conviction.

    In December 2018, Thai authorities forcibly returned Cambodian dissident Rath Rott Mony to Cambodia. Cambodian authorities then prosecuted him for his role in a Russia Times documentary “My Mother Sold Me,” which describes the failure of Cambodian police to protect girls sold into sex work. He was convicted of “incitement to discriminate” and in July 2019 sentenced to two years in prison.

    In March 2018, the government enacted a lese majeste (insulting the king) clause into the Penal Code, and within a year four people had been jailed under the law and three convicted. All the lese majeste cases involved people expressing critical opinions on Facebook or sharing other people’s Facebook posts. The government has used the new law, along with a judiciary that lacks independence, as a political tool to silence independent and critical voices in the country.

    In July 2019, authorities detained two youth activists, Kong Raya and Soung Neakpoan, who participated in a commemoration ceremony on the third anniversary of the murder of prominent political commentator Kem Ley in Phnom Penh. The authorities charged both with incitement to commit a felony, a provision commonly used to silence activists and human rights defenders. Authorities arrested seven people in total for commemorating the anniversary; monitored, disrupted, or cancelled commemorations around the country; and blocked approximately 20 members of the Grassroots Democracy Party on their way to Takeo province – Kem Ley’s home province.

    Attacks on Journalists and Control of the Media

    Prior to the July 2018 election, the Cambodian government significantly curtailed media freedom, online and offline. In 2017, authorities ordered the closure of 32 FM radio frequencies that aired independent news programs by Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America. RFA closed its offices in September 2017, citing government harassment as the reason for its closure. The local Voice of Democracy radio was also forced to go off the air.

    Since 2017, two major independent newspapers, the Phnom Penh Post and The Cambodia Daily, were subjected to dubious multi-million-dollar tax bills, leading the Phnom Penh Post to be sold to a businessman with ties to Hun Sen and The Cambodia Daily to close.

    Social media networks have come under attack from increased government surveillance and interventions. In May 2018, the government adopted a decree on Publication Controls of Website and Social Media Processing via the Internet and the Law on Telecommunications, which allow for arbitrary interference and surveillance of online media and unfettered government censorship. Just two days before the July 2018 elections, authorities blocked the websites of independent media outlets – including RFA and VOA – which human rights groups considered immediate enforcement of the new decree.

    Since then, Cambodian authorities have proceeded with the politically motivated prosecution of two RFA journalists, Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin. They were arrested in November 2017 on fabricated espionage charges connected to allegations that the two men continued to report for RFA after RFA’s forced closure of its Cambodia office. They were held in pre-trial detention until August 2018. Their trial began in July 2019 and a verdict on the espionage charges is expected late August. They face up to 16 years in prison.

    ***

    The Cambodian government’s actions before and since the July 2018 election demonstrate a comprehensive campaign by the ruling CPP government to use violence, intimidation and courts that lack judicial independence to silence or eliminate the political opposition, independent media, and civil society groups critical of the government.

    We strongly urge your government to acknowledge the severity of the human rights situation and the risks it poses to Cambodia’s fulfilment of its commitments to respect human rights and rule of law as set out in the Paris Peace Accords 1991. It is crucial that concerned states explicitly condemn the Cambodian government’s attacks on human rights norms and take steps to address them.

    For these reasons, we call on the Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution requesting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor and report on the situation of human rights in Cambodia and outline actions the government should take to comply with its international human rights obligations. The High Commissioner should report to the Council at its 45th session followed by an Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the participation of the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, other relevant UN Special Procedures, and members of local and international civil society.

    We further recommend that your government, during the Council’s September session, speaks out clearly and jointly with other governments against ongoing violations in Cambodia.

    We remain at your disposal for any further information.

    With assurances of our highest consideration,

    1. Amnesty International
    2. ARTICLE 19
    3. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)
    4. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    5. Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)
    6. Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU)
    7. Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
    8. Cambodian Food and Service Workers' Federation (CFSWF)
    9. Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
    10. Cambodian League for the Promotion & Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
    11. Cambodian Youth Network (CYN)
    12. Cambodia's Independent Civil Servants Association (CICA)
    13. Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL)
    14. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    15. Civil Rights Defenders (CRD)
    16. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
    17. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) 
    18. FIDH – International Federation for Human Rights
    19. Fortify Rights
    20. Human Rights Now
    21. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
    22. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
    23. Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA)
    24. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    25. Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)
    26. National Democratic Institute (NDI)
    27. Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières - RSF)
    28. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) 

     

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