PHNOM PENH / GENEVA (17 January 2014) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi, urged the main political parties in the country to “overcome the mistrust and immediately return to the negotiating table,” possibly in the presence of a third party witness or mediator, if needed.
Mr. Subedi’s appeal comes at the end of his tenth fact-finding mission to Cambodia, against the backdrop of the ongoing political impasse in the aftermath of the contested July 2013 elections, and in the aftermath of the violent suppression of protestors by the authorities on 2, 3 and 4 January 2014.
Stressing that the ongoing political impasse has a direct impact on the enjoyment of human rights by all in Cambodia, the independent expert said that “flexibility on both sides to reach a political compromise is needed.” The country, he noted, “has to begin its reform agenda, including judicial, electoral and parliamentary reforms as outlined in my previous reports, without further delay.
“The Prime Minister has sent an important signal to the international community that he is ready and willing to seriously address the human rights issues in the country by extending full cooperation during this visit and engaging in meaningful dialogue,” he said.
The Special Rapporteur expressed appreciation for the resumed dialogue with the Royal Government at the highest level, in particular, the meeting with the Prime Minister and other senior members of the Government. Mr Subedi described the interaction during his 3.5 hour meeting as “frank, cordial and informative.”
However, the independent expert noted that there has been a “worrying change from a tolerant to a repressive response of the Government to public protests,” referring to the events earlier this year in which protestors from the garment industry demanding fairer minimum wage were brutally suppressed by the authorities, resulting in at least 4 confirmed deaths and many injured by gunfire and beatings.
The Special Rapporteur stressed that any use of force must meet the tests of necessity, legality and proportionality, which in these instances he believed the authorities had failed. “The Government must ensure a thorough, credible and independent investigation, including who issued and who carried out the order to shoot,” he added.
Mr Subedi condemned the incommunicado detention for several days of the 23 individuals detained on 2 and 3 January, and urged, among others, that the authorities seek their immediate release on bail, particularly those requiring medical treatment.
On the current ban on demonstration in force since 4 January, while condemning the violence exercised by some demonstrators, the Special Rapporteur was of the view that the legal basis and justification for such a ban was lacking. “In the absence of a legal basis, the ban on demonstration should be lifted”, he said.
Referring to the workers’ demands to raise the minimum wage which had given rise to the recent protests, the independent expert emphasised that the Government must work to ensure that the national minimum wage is set at a sufficient level to provide all workers and their families with a decent standard of living, to be reviewed periodically, based on data, analysis and participation, not repression.
On land rights, “issues of transparency, accountability and the absence of an effective dispute mechanism” associated with the Government’s land titling programme under Directive 001 continued to be of concern to the rights expert. “Chronic land disputes, including Boeung Kak Lake, Borei Keika and other communities, should be resolved immediately,” the UN expert said.
Mr Subedi welcomed the willingness of the Government to resume work on its long-standing commitment for its establishment of an independent national human rights institution as an avenue for people to have their grievances or complaints meaningfully heard and addressed.
The Special Rapporteur was also “alarmed” by the anti-Vietnamese language allegedly used in public by the leaders of the opposition party, as well as the attacks and looting of some ethnic Vietnamese-owned establishments on 3 January.
“Incitement to racial discrimination, as well as acts of violence or incitement to such acts against any race or group of persons or another colour or ethnic origin are all acts that have no place in a democratic society,” he stressed.
During his week-long mission, in addition to meeting the Prime Minister and other senior members of the Royal Government, the human rights expert met with ordinary citizens, groups of youths, students, civil society organisations, the leaders of the opposition party, as well as members of the international community including development partners and the United Nations Country Team. The UN expert also met with some of the relatives and lawyers of the 23 arrested on 2 and 3 January.
Following his appointment in 2009, Mr. Subedi has thus far 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 at its September 2014 session.
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.
(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14175&LangID=E and
http://cambodia.ohchr.org/EN/PagesFiles/Statements/Statement2014.htm (available in English and Khmer)
UN Human Rights, country page – Cambodia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/KHIndex.aspx
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