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UN rights expert urges Cambodia to lift protest ban and appeals for calm amidst violence

GENEVA (16 July 2014) – In the wake of alarming reports of violence following opposition protests in Phnom Penh yesterday, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi, urged all sides to immediately exercise utmost calm and restraint, and reiterated his call for an end to the official ban on demonstrations.

“Yesterday’s events have shown that the shrinking of democratic space in Cambodia since January is having negative effects on the enjoyment of human rights for all,” Mr. Subedi said.

What began as a peaceful protest led by members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), quickly became a scene of violent clashes, resulting in up to 40 persons injured, mostly private security guards. By now, five CNRP Members of Parliament-elect and one CNRP activist have been arrested.

“I call on the Government to guarantee the constitutional right to peaceful assembly for all Cambodians with immediate effect by lifting the existing restrictions on assembly, and to ensure the fair treatment of those arrested in strict accordance with the human rights standards relating to the administration of justice,” he stressed. 

The UN independent expert also urged all to exercise non-violent means of expression and to uphold peace and order in the exercise of their freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.

“Yesterday, Freedom Park – a symbol of democracy in Phnom Penh –once again became a witness to violence and an antithesis to freedom,” the Special Rapporteur stated. Freedom Park was closed in January after the authorities imposed a demonstration ban in Phnom Penh, following violent incidents during protests by striking garment workers.  

“In the aftermath of the tragic incidents in the first week of January 2014 which was followed by the imposition of a demonstration ban in Phnom Penh, I repeatedly reminded the Government of its obligation to facilitate peaceful demonstration and to exercise utmost restraint towards protestors. I also appealed to those taking part in demonstrations not to resort to violence,” the UN expert said.

During his last mission to Cambodia, Mr. Subedi had also expressed concern to the Government regarding the role of district security guards in policing public demonstrations. “These are private individuals who appear to operate outside any clear accountability framework that exists for the law enforcement personnel,” he warned.

“Tolerance is crucial for the future of democracy in Cambodia,” the Special Rapporteur said. “I regret that a peaceful act of hanging a banner on the barbed wire should have led private security guards to take out batons to beat protesters, while the police looked on, which in turn led to acts akin to mob violence.”

“Democracy depends on respect, not violence,” the human rights expert underscored. “I call in the strongest possible terms for all sides to exercise restraint,” he stressed.

“While there may be frustrations concerning the ongoing restrictions on public assembly, as well as perhaps more deep-rooted frustrations, it must be recalled that those seeking to exercise their right to peaceful assembly must remain peaceful and respectful of others’ human rights,” the expert said.

The Special Rapporteur urged the Cambodian Government once again to publicly declare the official lifting of the ban on demonstration, and reiterated his view that the barricading of Freedom Park has no justification in law. “The closing off of Freedom Park triggered a reaction that no one wished to see and that most certainly no one wishes to see repeated,” he noted.

Mr. Subedi expressed deep sympathy for all those who were injured yesterday, as well as for those who were injured or killed during the demonstrations that took place over the course of the past year.

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

The Special Rapporteur has submitted his recommendations in five substantive reports on the situation of human rights in Cambodia. Mr. Subedi will present his latest findings, conclusions and recommendations to the UN 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: 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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