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A truly representative National Assembly, the real test for democracy in Cambodia – UN rights expert

GENEVA (25 September 2013) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi, today stressed that the key remaining challenge for the electoral process is for the country’s leaders to ensure truly representative governance. Addressing the UN Human Rights Council amidst the ongoing political turmoil in Cambodia, the human rights expert also reiterated his call for calm and restraint.

“Every country that undergoes a transition to democracy faces a moment when the rules must change. Cambodia is facing such a moment now,” Mr. Subedi said. Referring to the opening of the Cambodian National Assembly on 22 September with the presence of only one party, the expert strongly urged “dialogue to continue, at an appropriate decision-making level, with a view to resolving the current impasse without further delay.”

The UN Special Rapporteur underscored that the widely-disputed election results indicate that “roughly half of the population voted for one party and half for the other”. In his view, “it is critical for the new National Assembly to be represented by the two key parties, for the National Assembly to be truly representative of the whole of the Cambodian people and for it to be concluded that the right to vote was effectively exercised on 28 July.”

Mr. Subedi noted the general restraint exercised by the Cambodian authorities in the use of force in the past weeks, but said he was “gravely concerned” by what he described as “indiscriminate and excessive use of force” in several recent incidents. He urged the authorities to allow future demonstrations to proceed without undue restrictions.

Peaceful assembly, the expert recalled, is a human right subject only to restrictions which are strictly necessary in a democratic society. He underscored that freedom of expression is an inherent part of the democratisation process and that the role of the State in peaceful demonstrations is to facilitate, not hinder, them. He stressed that any use of force must be subject to the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality. “I appeal to all actors to exercise restraint and calm,” he said.

“I continue to believe that the leaders of Cambodia can still, even at this late stage, make this election a milestone in the journey to making Cambodia a just, equitable, and free society,” the rights expert said. “It is my sincere hope that in the process, the situation will be resolved without further loss of life, and that the will of the people will be reflected in the new governance structure that will lead the country on its path to a true democracy.”

Mr. Subedi presented today his fifth substantive report* to the UN Human Rights Council, focusing on follow-up to his previous reports since he was appointed as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia in 2009.

The rights expert restated his call upon the Cambodian government to keep moving forward on the implementation of his recommendations. “My reports on judicial, parliamentary and electoral reform can serve as guidelines to parliamentarians from both political parties as the country take the road towards a fuller liberal democracy underpinned by sustainable peace and equitable economic development,” he said.

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 and a practising Barrister in the United Kingdom. He also is the editor of the Asian Journal of International Law (published by Cambridge University Press) and the Vice-President of the Asian Society of International Law.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s latest report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/24/36): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session24/Pages/ListReports.aspx

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

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Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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