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“Ready to assist with remaining challenges” – UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia

GENEVA / PHNOM PENH (27 May 2013) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi, called on the Cambodian Government to keep moving forward on the implementation of his recommendations regarding the judiciary, parliament, electoral reform and economic and land concessions. Mr. Subedi reiterated that he “stands ready to assist with remaining challenges.”

“Cambodia has come a long way, but there is still some way to go in promoting and protecting human rights, strengthening good governance, enhancing the independence and capacity of State institutions responsible for upholding people’s rights”, the independent expert said* at the end of his ninth fact-finding mission to the country. Mr. Subedi has thus far submitted four substantive reports to the UN Human Rights Council on the situation of human rights in Cambodia.

On reform of the judiciary, the Special Rapporteur noted that progress “remains very slow.” However, he noted that “recommendations to strengthen parliament’s role in protecting human rights appear to be under active consideration by the National Assembly and Senate.”

On land issues, the rights expert pointed out that two of his recommendations were moving forward, namely a moratorium on economic land concessions and more speedy land titling. The current land titling programme “is a unique opportunity to address the tenure security of many families, including those excluded from this and previous titling efforts, and those in conflict with more powerful individuals and private sector interests,” he said.

“Nevertheless, further implementation of the existing framework on land rights and strengthening of land management institutions is necessary for these gains to be sustainable,” Mr. Subedi said, stressing however that little progress has been made in some chronic land disputes, and in reducing the criminalization of land activists.

Similarly, recommendations on electoral reform are being considered. Although access to the voter list and the composition of the National Election Committee (NEC) have been improved, the Special Rapporteur said he was aware of concerns raised, in particular over the voter registration list. “If founded, these concerns should be addressed,” he said.

As the country approached the national elections due in July 2013, Mr. Subedi urged all parties and the NEC to ensure free, fair and peaceful elections. “All sides should play by the rules, demonstrate maturity in debate, and not engage in insulting games. All sides must be able to play on a level playing field,” he underscored.

The human rights expert also expressed concern at the restrictions of freedom of expression in the country, and impunity for a long list of crimes for which no one has been brought to justice. “I urge the Government to expedite its investigation of such cases and bring to justice the perpetrators,” he said.

“It is imperative in the exercise of my mandate to have the opportunity to interact with all segments of the society,” Mr. Subedi said, underscoring that the key pillars to his work as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia are independence, impartiality and objectivity.

The expert welcomed the “candid, cordial and constructive” dialogue he held with senior members of the Royal Government during the mission. “They were forthcoming with information, acknowledged deficiencies where they exist, and prepared to work with me,” he said.

Speaking of protests organised against his work during the visit, the Special Rapporteur said that they seem to have been orchestrated and represented the views of a tiny minority in the country. “The protests have not and will not distract the work that I am mandated to do in Cambodia by the United Nations,” he underlined. Mr. Subedi also expressed appreciation for the messages of support he had received in reaction from people from various walks of life.

During his visit, the human rights expert met with key Government leaders, as well as members of the National Assembly and the judiciary. He is also held meetings with human rights defenders, representatives from civil society organizations and communities as well as the donor community and the United Nations Country Team.

Mr Subedi will present his next report to the Human Rights Council at its September 2013 session.

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 and a practising Barrister of the Middle Temple in London. He is the Vice President of the Asian Society of International Law and editor of its flagship publication – the Asian Journal of International Law published by Cambridge University Press.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13359&LangID=E

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: Ms. Olga Nakajo (+41 22 928 9348 / onakajo@ohchr.org) or write to srcambodia@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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