GENEVA (12 October 2017) – Civil and political rights in Cambodia are deteriorating rapidly, with deeply worrying implications for forthcoming elections and the future of democracy in the country, a United Nations human rights expert has said.
The stark warning from the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Cambodia comes after the Ministry of Interior began legal proceedings to dissolve the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), whose leader is in custody, and amid possible moves to strip the party of its existing seats in parliament.
“For Cambodians to engage in open and serious political debate, the opposition must be allowed to exist and to function without fear or intimidation,” said the Special Rapporteur, Rhona Smith. “Democracy is about voice and choice. These moves risk leaving many Cambodians without either.
“The dissolution of the CNRP would affect Cambodians’ voice and choice at all levels of government, raising serious concerns about the representativeness of government. I echo the call made last month by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who urged the government to respect civil and political rights and fundamental freedoms.
“I am also concerned that the government is doing this under the guise of the rule of law,” Professor Smith added.
The CNRP is the only opposition party represented in the National Assembly. General elections are due by July 2018.
The party’s leader, Kem Sokha, remains in pre-trial detention on charges of conspiracy with a foreign power, and faces up to 30 years’ imprisonment if convicted. Since his arrest on 3 September, almost half the CRNP’s 55 members of parliament have left the country.
Professor Smith noted that the legal action against the CNRP, launched in the Supreme Court last Friday, had been made possible by a series of amendments to the Law on Political Parties in March and July this year.
These created additional grounds for dissolving a party, some of which were broad and vague, she said.
Further legislative amendments tabled by the ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) for discussion this week contain elaborate formulae to redistribute the seats of a dissolved party between other parties.
“If these changes were applied to the current situation, it would bring into serious question the political representation of a significant portion of Cambodians,” the Special Rapporteur said.
“Rule of law is about more than the mere application of laws. All laws must respect human rights and must reflect the principles of fairness, justice and public participation. Otherwise, it becomes rule by law, not rule of law.”
She added: "Modern Cambodia was established as a multi-party liberal democracy, respectful and protective of human rights. Its Constitution sought to prevent a return to a single-party state. Those who drafted the Constitution were all too well aware of the consequences of one-party rule."
Professor Rhona Smith (United Kingdom) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2015. As Special Rapporteur, she is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.
Check the Special Rapporteur’s reports on Cambodia.
UN Human Rights, country page: Cambodia
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