25 September 2012
The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia.
Surya Prasad Subedi, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, presenting his reports to the Human Rights Council, said that he had conducted two country missions, the first of which had focused on the impact of the electoral laws and practices on the enjoyment of human rights, while the second one looked at the impact of economic and other land concessions on human rights in this country. Elections for the National Assembly in Cambodia were due in 2013 and the Special Rapporteur had received a number of reports from various stakeholders expressing concern about the prospect of free and fair elections. The Special Rapporteur said that land concessions should be granted and managed with a sound legal and policy framework, including respect for people’s rights, especially indigenous rights.
Cambodia, speaking as the concerned country, said that Cambodia had made important progress since the conclusion of the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991. With the latest commune elections held on 3 June 2012, Cambodia had taken a significant step forward toward the process of democratization. The Government had also made progress in halving infant mortality. Progress remained to be achieved, however, on other issues such as social inequalities between rural and urban areas, and on how to balance the right to freedom of expression. Those would be addressed through Cambodia’s pro-poor policy and other relevant national plans.
In the interactive dialogue, speakers welcomed and took note of the progress achieved by Cambodia in promoting and protecting human rights, as well as its cooperative and constructive approach. The political stability and peace over the last decade had brought economic growth and progress to the country. Concern was voiced however on violence against human rights defenders and journalists, which the Cambodian Government was called upon to investigate. It was crucial to guarantee the credibility of the system in the eyes of the population and implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur in that regard. On land concession, in its quest for rapid economic growth, Cambodia was giving priority to private companies at the expense of the rights of its citizens. Speakers underlined the importance of respect for the rights of citizens and especially indigenous populations in granting land concessions in Cambodia.
Speaking in the interactive dialogue were Japan, European Union, Thailand, Australia, Malaysia, Switzerland, Philippines, United States, Indonesia, France, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, United Kingdom, Myanmar, Czech Republic, Nepal, Slovakia, and Ireland.
The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, CIVICUS-World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Open Society Justice Initiative Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, and Non-violent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty.
Mr. Subedi in concluding remarks said that if there was the political will to carry out reform and implement recommendations, international assistance would be made available from various sources. It was a long journey towards building liberal democracy, and what was required was political will.
The Human Rights Council will resume its work at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, 26 September, when it will hold interactive dialogues with the Independent Experts on Somalia and Sudan, and hear country reports by the United Nations Secretary-General and the High Commissioner, followed by a general debate on technical assistance and capacity building.
The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia (A/HRC/21/63) and its Addendum - Update on land rights (A/HRC/21/63/Add.1).
Presentation by the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Cambodia
SURYA PRASAD SUBEDI, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, presenting his reports to the Human Rights Council, said that he had conducted two country missions, the first of which had focused on the impact of the electoral laws and practices on the enjoyment of human rights, while the second one looked at the impact of economic and other land concessions on human rights in this country. The Special Rapporteur expressed his regret that he had not been able to meet with the Prime Minister during those two missions. Elections for the National Assembly in Cambodia were due in 2013 and the Special Rapporteur had received a number of reports from various stakeholders expressing concern about the prospect of free and fair elections. The Constitution of Cambodia firmly put the country on the path to liberal democracy and the elections were central to this; civil servants, the National Electoral Commission and civil society had a very good understanding of the laws and practices that governed the electoral process in Cambodia.
Mr. Subedi was of the view that reforms should be carried out to ensure that the elections in Cambodia were free and fair, and that Cambodians could exercise their right to democratic governance in a free political environment. Persisting capacity gaps in the electoral process were of concern and urgent and longer-term reforms were needed to give Cambodians confidence in this process and the workings of the National Electoral Committee. Turning to his second visit that had taken place in May 2012, the Special Rapporteur said that land concessions should be granted and managed with a sound legal and policy framework, including respect for people’s rights, especially indigenous rights; unfortunately, this was not the case with many concessions in the country. Cambodia had a relatively well developed legal framework governing the granting and management of land concessions, but the existence of this framework on paper was one thing and the implementation of the law was another. The Special Rapporteur also noted the use of the criminal justice system against human rights defenders and those peacefully exercising their right to express opinion freely and said that such cases undermined confidence in the justice system among ordinary Cambodians.
Statement by Cambodia as the Concerned Country
Cambodia, speaking as the concerned country, took note of the content of the report presented by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Cambodia, and said that it was up to the Government to consider those recommendations that were practical, feasible and implementable and that reflected the practical needs of the country. Cambodia’s commitment to human rights was demonstrated by the fact that it had engaged itself with the United Nations human rights mechanisms over the years. Cambodia had made important progress since the conclusion of the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991. With the latest commune elections held on 3 June 2012, Cambodia had taken a significant step forward toward the process of democratization. The political stability had brought economic growth, and Cambodia would achieve the Millennium Development Goals of halving extreme poverty by 2015. The Government had also made progress in halving infant mortality. Progress remained to be achieved, however, on other issues such as social inequalities between rural and urban areas. Those would be addressed through Cambodia’s pro-poor policy and other relevant national plans. The Government was taking steps to address land issues, including through programmes to grant land to purely landless people. Cambodia remained committed to the development of a democratic and pluralistic political scene, and was promoting greater tolerance for the exercise of views and expressions by individuals. Challenges however still remained on how to balance the right to freedom of expression. Progress had been made on the finalization of Cambodia’s periodic report to the United Nations Committee on Civil and Political Rights. Cambodia had made further steps towards the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, and was committed to improving the living conditions of those people. In January 2012 the Government agreed with the Office of the High Commissioner on the extension of the Memorandum of Understanding aimed at providing technical support on human rights for another two years. In the regional context, Cambodia continued working with its partners for the drafting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Human Rights Declaration.
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Cambodia
Japan appreciated the gradual progress on the human rights situation in Cambodia but reiterated concern on human rights violations associated with the land concession issue and encouraged Cambodia to prevent the forced removal of residents and to ensure the effective application of a legal framework for land disputes. Free and fair elections constituted a basic pillar of democracy. In order to establish the rule of law and judicial independence, Japan was supporting the development of civil law and procedure codes and providing technical assistance for judges and prosecutors.
European Union said that the focus on the institutional electoral framework was relevant in light of the upcoming elections and reiterated that many of the recommendations put forward by previous European Union Election Observation Missions were yet to be addressed. The European Union expressed concern about the misuse of the penal code in order to frighten or put aside political and media organizations; the shrinking space for work of civil society and restrictions imposed on freedom of expression; and the persistence of land disputes and forced evictions. The European Union called on Cambodia to intensify efforts to ensure a free political environment that would be conducive to fair elections.
Thailand wished Cambodia success in its endeavours to develop an environment conducive for exercising civil and political rights in order to achieve free and fair elections. Thailand was committed to cooperating with Cambodia to further develop its human rights situation on a bilateral, regional and international basis, including within the framework of ASEAN’s intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. Thailand called on the international community to continue to contribute to the technical cooperation and capacity building needed for the implementation of international obligations and Universal Periodic Review recommendations.
Australia welcomed Cambodia’s continued engagement with the Special Rapporteur and the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, and the progress that the country made on land issues, including on disputes and evictions for disadvantaged groups. It was important that resettlements were carried out in accordance with the Cambodian legal framework and international standards. Australia called for the prompt investigation of incidents of excessive use of force against protesters.
Malaysia stressed the importance of the continued attention of the Council on the human rights situation in Cambodia, particularly by the provision of technical assistance and capacity building through the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. Proper management of land was essential to a nation’s development. Success in land management would spur Cambodia’s domestic development and provide space for political stability.
Switzerland acknowledged the considerable progress made towards establishing democracy and the rule of law in Cambodia since the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement and noted the challenges in fulfilling its international human rights responsibilities. Switzerland agreed that the National Electoral Commission should have independent status and asked the Special Rapporteur how the international community could support the Government in reforming the law and creating another electoral institution to resolve electoral differences.
Philippines took note of the progress achieved by Cambodia in promoting and protecting human rights. The Philippines encouraged Cambodia to consider the recommendations made in the report as appropriate and to address issues in accordance to its domestic processes and international commitments. The Philippines welcomed the commitment of Cambodia to engage with civil society organizations, and said that it stood ready to work with Cambodia within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
United States agreed that Cambodia had made significant progress since the adoption of the Paris Peace Agreement. It supported Cambodia’s aim of creating a multiparty democracy, and said that more needed to be done, such as establishing a National Election Committee, ensuring that all candidates had equal media coverage, and allowing Sam Rainsy to return to Cambodia. The United States called on Cambodia to investigate incidents of violence and harassment against journalists and human rights defenders. Finally, it encouraged Cambodia to address land issues with the establishment of a dispute resolution mechanism.
Indonesia noted with appreciation Cambodia’s commitment and progress for the promotion and protection of human rights. It supported the efforts made by Cambodia in favour of democracy, congratulated Cambodia for the elections that took place in June 2012, and demanded that Cambodia’s collaboration with United Nations human rights mechanisms continued.
France welcomed the report which stated that considerable efforts had been made by the authorities since the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement. Regarding the electoral system, it was crucial to guarantee the credibility of the system in the eyes of the population. On land issues, France welcomed the Prime Minister’s decision to publish a moratorium on granting of new concessions. On the operation of the judiciary system, France was concerned about information that judicial inquiries and trials were conducted outside of the basic rule of law, as well as excessive recourse to remand.
Lao People’s Democratic Republic commended the Cambodian Government for the political stability and peace over the last decade which had brought economic growth and progress to the country. It shared the position of the Non-Aligned Movement that a country-specific human rights resolution would not help address human rights issues, and believed that the Human Rights Council and the Universal Periodic Review mechanisms were the only appropriate forums to discuss or review a situation of human rights in any country on an equal basis.
United Kingdom said that last year it welcomed the Cambodian Government’s announcement that it would work with civil society in resolving land disputes. However, reports suggested that the number of disputes had increased. It was regrettable that despite the Special Rapporteur’s multi-stakeholder approach, he was unable to access key private sector information. The United Kingdom remained concerned about intimidation, disproportionate legal charges, and the increased use of force as reactions to ordinary citizens and opposition party representatives who made legitimate representations about their concerns.
Myanmar noted with encouragement Cambodia’s commitment to deepen interaction with the international human rights mechanisms and, in particular, its constructive cooperation with the Special Rapporteur. Myanmar also welcomed the measures taken by Cambodia to promote the fundamental human rights of its citizens, including the consultation with relevant stakeholders on the draft laws on associations and non-governmental organizations. As a fellow member of ASEAN, Myanmar wished Cambodia great progress in its political, economic and social transformation.
Czech Republic appreciated the progress made by Cambodia in strengthening democracy, human rights and the rule of law; the building of new political institutions and the framing of a new political environment hand in hand with efforts to promote economic prosperity were no easy task. Holding of free and fair elections was a key aspect to accountable and democratic governance and the Czech Republic called on Cambodia to fully implement the recommendations regarding electoral reform and stressed the importance of a transparent political environment and the free exercise of rights.
Nepal appreciated the cooperative and constructive approach of Cambodia and was encouraged by the progress made in strengthening democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Holding elections at regular intervals, enactment of key legislation, and efforts towards institution building, political stability and economic growth had helped obtain remarkable results in many spheres. Nepal hoped that the Special Rapporteur’s focus on the electoral process and the impact of land concessions would further contribute to this process.
Slovakia commended Cambodia’s progress in the area of human rights protection and noted that some challenges remained. While noting with appreciation Cambodia’s extended cooperation with the Special Rapporteur, Slovakia hoped that this line of communication would be preserved. Slovakia recommended that Cambodia undertake appropriate reforms to ensure the compliance of elections with international standards. Slovakia also said that due focus should be accorded to the situation of human rights defenders and journalists, and to the enjoyment of freedom of expression, opinion and assembly.
Ireland welcomed the continuing engagement of Cambodia with the United Nations mechanisms. It agreed that Cambodia had made significant progress in the fields of human rights, good governance and democracy. Ireland urged Cambodia to ensure the full implementation of the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur, in particular regarding electoral policy, the creation of a National Election Committee, media impartiality, and allegations of harassment of opposition parties and human rights defenders. Ireland believed that land disputes and forced evictions resulting in violent clashes reflected a breakdown in trust.
Viet Nam commended the efforts by Cambodia to ensure political stability and economic growth, and appreciated the achievements obtained in many fields such as implementing the Millennium Development Goals, combating poverty, tackling social disparity and helping vulnerable people. Viet Nam also noted the concrete steps undertaken by Cambodia to strengthen the rule of law and the democratization process. It understood that challenges still remained, that more needed to be done, and urged greater assistance by the international community. Viet Nam applauded the commitment by Cambodia to resolve the land issue and its cooperation with international human rights mechanisms
Morocco commended the cooperative attitude of the Cambodian Government with the United Nations and its mechanisms. The frequency of the Special Rapporteur’s visits attested to the willingness of the Government to improve the situation of human rights in the country. Morocco requested clarifications on progress made in the area of the ‘Extraordinary Chambers of Cambodian Tribunals’. What was the Special Rapporteur’s evaluation of his three years in office, and what challenges could he identify?
China noted that during both missions of the Special Rapporteur, the Government provided the necessary facilities. It gladly noted that in the past few years, the Cambodian authorities had enacted a series of laws and regulations conducive to the protection of human rights. It was China’s view that the Government and people of Cambodia had the right to choose their model and path of human rights development.
New Zealand welcomed the rapid development of the Cambodian economy over the past ten years, with economic development crucial for the improved well-being of Cambodia’s people. It noted, however, the concerns of the Special Rapporteur in relation to the harsh implementation of land reform policies in Cambodia and encouraged the Cambodian Government to address the legitimate grievances of families forcibly evicted from their homes without proper consultation or compensation.
Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada in a joint statement shared the view that freedom of expression was a principal concern in Cambodia. Human rights defenders and journalists frequently experienced judicial harassment and violence and this trend was alarming and escalating. Another issue of concern was the independence of the judiciary and impunity and the lack of the commitment by the Government to implement reforms.
CIVICUS-World Alliance for Citizen Participation said that human rights defenders exposing land abuses came increasingly at risk as the Government sought to promote rapid economic growth through policies that favoured the private sector over citizens’ rights. 2012 had been the worst year for human rights in Cambodia in over a decade in which civil society experienced increasingly violent crackdowns on peaceful protesters, arbitrary arrests and killing of environmental activists.
Open Society Justice Initiative said that the credibility of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia was at a critical juncture. The arrival of a new investigating judge was an opportunity to fully investigate cases 003 and 004 concerning allegations of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, to establish an accurate historical record of Khmer Rouge atrocities and ensure access to justice for victims.
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development expressed concern at the persistence of chronic and widespread violations with impunity, despite technical assistance from the Council and the High Commissioner. Judicial harassment against human rights defenders, community leaders and political opponents was now an established record, targeting in particular those involved in protests and campaigns on land and on housing rights. The Asian Forum urged Cambodia to develop a time-frame and action plan for the implementation of the recommendations.
International Federation for Human Rights Leagues was deeply concerned about the ongoing systematic violations of land and housing rights, as well as the increasing use of judicial and extra-judicial means to harass, intimidate and criminalise persons. The International Federation for Human Rights Leagues called on the Government to take effective steps to protect and fulfil all economic, social and cultural rights, and cease intimidation of human rights defenders, and investigate and prosecute those responsible for human rights violations regardless of rank with due process of law.
Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty said that the objectives of the Paris Peace Agreement were still valid and the people of Cambodia supported the recommendations concerning the electoral process. Viet Nam and Thailand seemed to pay little attention to their commitments as signatories to these agreements. It was important that signatories reaffirmed their commitment to the agreement and, in this spirit its application could ensure that the Cambodian people would not suffer from conflict once again.
SURYA PRASAD SUBEDI, Special Raporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, regarding the electoral reform process, said that when coming up with recommendations in the report, he had carried out a thorough analysis of laws and practices, but also a comparative study of a number of other countries including those within the region and elsewhere, both developed and developing. He had developed benchmarks and recommendations made were set against those. Cambodia was expected to implement the recommendations. Some required time and that was understood, but others were immediate recommendations and ought to be put in place as soon as possible. If there was the political will to carry out reform and implement recommendations, international assistance would be made available from various sources. On land concessions, he had carried out a thorough analysis of the situation and had tried to come up with an objective analysis of the situation. It was a long journey towards building liberal democracy, and what was required was political will. The Extraordinary Chambers at the Courts of Cambodia should be able to carry out its work without interference from any side and the good practices from its work should inform and guide the judiciary.
For use of the information media; not an official record