Letter to UN Member States: Civic space restrictions in Cambodia

To Missions of UN Member States
(delivered by email on 22 March)

We are writing to you with regards to the human rights situation in Cambodia. Since the 2013 general elections, civic space in Cambodia has become increasingly repressed. The authorities have systematically misused the criminal justice system to silence government critics and civil society organisations (CSOs).

In the run-up to Cambodia’s 2018 general elections, the Supreme Court in Cambodia ruled to dissolve the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) effectively ending the main political opposition to Prime Minister Hun Sen. The move, which transforms Cambodia into a single party state, has drawn widespread condemnation from across the globe.

Human rights defenders have been harassed and prosecuted for their peaceful human rights work. Further, the controversial and vaguely worded ‘Law on Associations and Non-Government Organisations’ has imposed sweeping restrictions on CSOs in Cambodia. Independent media outlets are struggling to stay afloat amidst the harsh treatment of critical and dissenting voices by the authorities. In September 2017, the English-language Cambodia Daily was forced to shut down its operations after the authorities gave its publishers 30 days to pay a USD 6.3 million tax bill, a move widely viewed as arbitrary. The same month, Radio Free Asia ceased operations in Cambodia, citing the restrictive media environment. 

The 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council offers an opportunity for states to raise these concerns with the Cambodian government. We understand that a joint statement has been drafted by New Zealand under Item 2. As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, a champion of civic space, and a key democratic voice in the Asia Pacific region, we would like to urge the South Korean government to support this statement and to send a strong message to Cambodia that plurality and diversity in voices, political groups, civil society and the media should be encouraged and protected, particularly during politically charged periods such as elections.