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Electoral capacity gaps still remain in Cambodia, warns UN Special Rapporteur

PHNOM PEHN / GENEVA (9 December 2011) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Surya P. Subedi urged* the Government of Cambodia to address capacity gaps within the electoral system as a whole, in order to create an environment that helps free speech flourish and that encourages debate amongst all political parties.

“My immediate impression is that all stakeholders in the Kingdom are approaching the upcoming elections in a very serious manner,” said the independent expert at the end of his sixth fact-finding visit to the country. “However, I have found that there seems to be a number of problems that still exist throughout the election process and within many of the institutions responsible for holding elections in the country.”

During his six-day mission, the Special Rapporteur followed up on recommendations made in his previous reports focusing on the Cambodian judiciary, parliament and freedom of expression. He also looked at the electoral policies, practices and institutions in the context of international human rights norms and standards for holding free and fair elections in view of the forthcoming commune elections in 2012 and parliamentary elections in 2013.

“One area I am particularly concerned about is access to the mass media in Cambodia,” Mr. Subedi stressed. “I have had concerns expressed to me that a number of political parties have been denied access to the mass media on an equal footing, or have encountered difficulties with local authorities when they try to claim their right to participate in a free and fair election campaign.”

Special Rapporteur also noted an allegation brought to his attention by the various stakeholders that civil servants, military personnel and members of the police have in the past canvassed for political parties using State resources, both human and material.

”I am happy to report that during my meeting with His Excellency Mr. Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior I was assured that Government will be instructing all personnel working in these particular groups that they should not participate in any political activities whilst working in their official capacities, which includes the use of government resources, and that neutrality is to be paramount.”

“I addressed the issue of media access with the Royal Government, who engaged positively with me by sharing their views in a constructive manner and I intend to look into the matter further once I have completed my research,” the human rights expert said, noting that “the mission has been very fruitful and the cooperation extended to me by government and non-government counterparts as been of a high quality,”

During his visit the Special Rapporteur met with the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, a ministry which has an overall responsibility for assisting the National Election Committee and facilitating elections in the country, the National Police, the Ministry of Defence, other government interlocutors, the President and Vice-President of the National Election Committee, members of the civil society, donor community, members of the various political parties, international organisations and private citizens affected by the situation of human rights in the country.

“I plan to write to the Royal Government to inform them of my initial findings and provide some concrete recommendations on how they might address these capacity gaps,” said the Special Rapporteur, who is due to present a report on his findings to the Human Rights Council in September 2012.

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. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organisation and serves in his individual capacity. 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://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=11702&LangID=E

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

UN Human Rights, country page – Cambodia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/KHIndex.aspx

For additional information and media enquiries, please contact:
In Phnom Penh: Ms Zoe Latumbo, (+855 12 790 178 / zlatumbo@ohchr.org)
In Geneva: Robert Vaughan (+41 22 928 9188 / rvaughan@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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