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“Criticism is not a crime,” says UN Special Rapporteur on Cambodia

PHNOM PENH / GENEVA (24 February 2011) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya Subedi, expressed his concern about the current use of the crime of incitement against human rights defenders in the country. “Criticism is not a crime but an exercise of freedom of conscience, an act of intelligence,” he said.

“There is a narrowing of space for people to express their views peacefully and without fear, including those belonging to different political parties,” Mr. Subedi warned at the end of his fourth fact-finding mission to Cambodia*. “The peaceful expression of opinion should not be dealt with under the Penal Code as is currently the case with crimes such as defamation and falsification of information.”

The latest mission of independent expert mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to assess and report on the human rights situation in Cambodia focused on the capacity of parliament to uphold the rights of the people and democratic norms.

“Democracy is not only about holding periodic elections, but developing a culture of debate, pluralism and participation. A properly functioning democracy requires an effective opposition,” he said. “Democracy is not about rule by law but about the rule of law. It is in these areas that a great deal of work needs to continue and I am here to offer my assistance.”

The Special Rapporteur welcomed efforts that have already been undertaken by the Cambodian Government to improve the situation of human rights, such as rebuilding the legal framework and the judiciary, developing a comprehensive legal and policy framework relating to land rights and housing issues, establishing a mechanism to prevent torture, developing and implementing the law on peaceful demonstrations.

Mr. Subedi also welcomed recent consultations held with civil society organisations on the draft NGO law and encouraged the Government to pursue wider consultations and bring the draft law into conformity to international norms.

The observations from this mission will inform the Special Rapporteur’s next report to the Human Rights Council later this year.

Professor Surya P. Subedi was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia in March 2009. He is currently Professor of International Law at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement by the Special Rapporteur: http://cambodia.ohchr.org/WebDOCs/DocStatements/2011/022011/SR_Press_Statement_24_Feb_2011_EN.pdf

For more information about the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, log on to: http://cambodia.ohchr.org/EN/PagesFiles/SpecialRapporteurIndex.htm

OHCHR Country page – Cambodia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/KHIndex.aspx

For further information and media enquiries, please contact:
In Phnom Penh: Ms. Zoe Latumbo (Tel: +855 12 790 178 / email: zlatumbo@ohchr.org) or Mr. Huan Touch (Tel: +855 12 476 493 / Email: htouch@ohchr.org)
In Geneva: Ms. Maureen Teo (Tel: + 41 22 928 9632 / email: mteo@ohchr.org).