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Cambodia: UN expert hails agreements for electoral reform, but urges respect for freedom of expression and assembly

GENEVA (6 March 2014) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi, greets the five-point agreement reached by the two main political parties currently represented in Parliament to launch concrete electoral reforms. He further welcomes the lifting of a ban on demonstration imposed on 5 January 2014:

“I welcome the agreements reached by the Joint Committee composed of members of the Cambodian People’s Party and the Cambodian National Rescue Party to proceed, among other things, on two concrete measures for electoral reform: to review the voter registry and to elaborate a draft law on the financing of political parties. I hope with cautious optimism that progress toward the remaining unresolved issues would soon be made between the two parties.

The matters to be discussed by them are of concern to all Cambodians. Those are issues on which all Cambodians have the fundamental human right to express themselves, whether through demonstrations, marches or other means.

In that respect, I welcome the announcement of the removal of the ban on demonstration that had been in force in the Kingdom since 5 January 2014. I was pleased to learn that, in a speech delivered on 25 February, Prime Minister Hun Sen stated that the ban would be lifted.

Since its imposition, I have urged the Royal Government to remove the ban, which in my view was contrary to Cambodia’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and its own Constitution.

I am concerned that some demonstrations continue to be blocked and persons are still routinely detained for distributing leaflets encouraging workers to strike. I look forward to seeing the ban lift effectively adopted so that free expression and peaceful assembly could once again be exercised, not as a State discretion but as a human right.

The right to mobilise people to demonstrations including through the distribution of leaflets is part and parcel of the right to peaceful assembly, as is the right to disseminate one’s ideas, including through the distribution of leaflets. The practice of arbitrarily detaining persons until they thumbprint a document agreeing to refrain from participating in future demonstrations is a violation of multiple human rights and must cease.

The responsibility to ensure security during demonstrations always lies with the State, so I have been deeply troubled by references possibly made in jest that counter-demonstrations might be organised at the same time and place as the demonstrations by the opposition. Such a scenario would be amusing were it not so dangerous.

The Law on Peaceful Demonstrations obliges the authorities to decide in favour of the group that first submits its notification letter, and to allow other groups to convene at least five hundred metres away.

In advance of the public forum on the minimum wage scheduled by a number of unions and associations for 8 March, I reiterate my call on the Cambodian authorities at all levels to judiciously respect the requirements of the rule of law and, in particular, the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as guaranteed by the Cambodian Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

I call upon the Government to strictly adhere to the Covenant, the Constitution, and the Law on Peaceful Demonstrations in respect of all limitations on demonstrations that it seeks to impose.

Finally, I wish to reiterate unequivocally that the principles of human rights are at the core principles of tolerance and mutual respect that holds every human life – for the mere reason of being human life – to be precious.”

ENDS

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. For more information, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/CountriesMandates/KH/Pages/SRCambodia.aspx

Professor Subedi has submitted five substantive reports to the UN Human Rights Council on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, and will present his next report to the Human Rights Council in September 2014. Check his previous reports: http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?m=107

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. Bushra Rahman, (+855 12 790 178 / brahman@ohchr.org)
In Geneva: Ms. Olga Nakajo (+41 79 444 4332/ +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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