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.