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Cambodia on the cusp of historical changes, but much more needs to be done – UN rights expert

GENEVA (24 September 2014) – “The political environment may have changed in Cambodia, but the fundamentals of governance and human rights protection have not,” today has warned the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi. 

“The situation in Cambodia today is very different from the one that existed when I assumed the Special Rapporteur mandate five years ago,” Mr. Subedi noted as he addressed the UN Human Rights Council for the last time, “having said that, what Cambodia needs now is to adopt a strong human rights infrastructure that can support far-reaching and meaningful reform.”

Since his appointment by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2009, the UN rights expert has produced four substantive reports on judicial, parliamentary, electoral and land reform, designed to assist the Government with the promised reform of State institutions responsible for protecting and promoting human rights.

In his latest and final report* to the Council, the Special Rapporteur focused on the independence of monitoring institutions – something, in his view, that was currently lacking in Cambodia.

“If I were to choose one recommendation as the sum of all others I have made during my time on the mandate, it would be that the Government should reconsider its opposition to independent institutions,” he said. “Only when such independence is guaranteed, of the judiciary, the National Election Committee, and Parliament itself, Cambodia will be on the path towards real reform.”

Citing the lack of progress in bringing to justice those responsible for the repeated incidents involving excessive use of force against protestors since last September, which left scores of individuals shot dead or injured, the UN expert said: “The list of impunity cases is long and growing”.

Mr. Subedi added that many of the issues surrounding land rights remain unresolved and the people on the margins of society continue to suffer from serious violations of their rights.

Also of concern to the Special Rapporteur was the legislative process currently underway that could restrict the freedoms of NGOs, trade unions and flow of information on the internet. He also noted that the “persecution of trade unions continues” and that a number of opposition members still face criminal charges.
Despite these human rights challenges, the expert noted that over the past year, “the Cambodian people found their voice” and thus strongly believed that Cambodia is on the cusp of historical changes that could usher in a new era for human rights protection. Encouraging the Government to keep the momentum headed in a positive direction, the Special Rapporteur also called upon the international community to keep a watchful eye as well as a helping hand.

“It is the implementation of meaningful reform that will demonstrate the tangible progress to the people of Cambodia, as well as the international community, necessary to show that Cambodia no longer needs this mandate,” he stressed.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur was renewed for an additional two-year term in September 2013 by the Human Rights Council. Surya P. Subedi will step down from the position when he reaches the full-term of six years in March 2015. His next and final mission to Cambodia is expected take place in January 2015, the results of which will be reported to the Human Rights Council by his successor.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s latest report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/27/70): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session27/Pages/ListReports.aspx

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

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

For additional information and media enquiries, please contact 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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