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UN expert calls for political will to accelerate Cambodia’s democratization

PHNOM-PENH – The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya Subedi, has said that while the country has made commendable progress, important shortcomings remain in implementing democratic principles.

“Democracy is about dialogue and debate on all issues of national importance,” he said at a press conference on Friday, at the end of his fifth human rights fact-finding mission to Cambodia. “Some of the current internal rules of procedure of the National Assembly are not conducive to enabling all members to enjoy freedom of speech in holding the executive to account and in defending the rights of the people they represent.”

“What is needed is the political will to accelerate the process of democratisation. The institutions that are needed to implement the democratisation process are already in place but the process of building these institutions as effective, independent and impartial State institutions has been frustratingly slow.”

Subedi cited examples such as recent incidents where the scope for members of Parliament in Cambodia to participate in parliamentary debate was limited and parliamentary immunity lifted on issues of national importance. The members of Parliament were also not given an opportunity to make a representation in their defence, he added.

“A properly functioning democracy requires effective checks on the executive and the majority,” he stressed. “The ability of Parliament in Cambodia to restrain the executive has been limited.”

Subedi noted that while the general human rights situation in Cambodia had improved, there remained challenges. Because of the fear of possible charges of defamation, disinformation and incitement, many journalists, human rights defenders and political activists appear to be resorting to self-censorship.

“I am concerned by the use of such charges against land activists and individuals making claims on disputed land,” he said. “I am dismayed to hear about disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officials during peaceful protests by individuals involved in land disputes.”

While Subedi was encouraged by consultations on the draft laws on NGOs and trade unions, he hoped the final drafts would indeed incorporate the suggestions made by such stakeholders.

Subedi also warned that there had been instances of “rough justice”.

“People who should not be in prison in a properly functioning democracy are in prison,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur thanked the Government and other stakeholders in Cambodia for their constructive approach to his work and looked forward to continued cooperation.

ENDS

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement by the Special Rapporteur: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=11107&LangID=E
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 (+855 12 790 178 / zlatumbo@ohchr.org) or Mr. Huan Touch (+855 12 476 493 / htouch@ohchr.org)
In Geneva: Ms. Maureen Teo (Tel: + 41 22 928 9632 / email: mteo@ohchr.org).