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“Address the democratic deficit and Cambodia will prosper” – Outgoing UN Special Rapporteur

Message to Cambodia

30 April 2015

GENEVA (30 April 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi, today issued the following statement as he completes his six-year term:

“These six years have gone by very quickly. I have had the privilege to work with the Royal Government of Cambodia, the opposition parties and a range of other stakeholders in Cambodian society in writing my reports on judicial, parliamentary, electoral and land reforms, and in the follow up of my recommendations. It gives me a sense of satisfaction that some of my recommendations have been implemented and some others are in the process of being implemented.

Cambodia has come a long way during this time. The reform agenda has advanced with the enactment of the three fundamental laws on the judiciary, the amendment of the Constitution to grant the National Election Committee a constitutional status, implementation of the land-titling programme under Directive 001, review and revocation of some economic and other land concessions and adoption of some guidelines on land evictions.

At the same time, in these and other areas, Cambodia still has some way to go to meet the international benchmark flowing from the international human rights treaties ratified by the country and to make the ideals of a liberal democracy a reality for its people. The three fundamental laws on the judiciary have their own flaws. So has the package of electoral reform implemented by the ruling and the opposition party.

Of course the reforms will not immediately, overnight, improve the situation of human rights for people in the country. The impact of some of these reforms will be felt perhaps in five or ten years’ time. And progress will depend on the implementation of these laws with sincerity and diligence.

While the Government has a duty to serve as a pillar for human rights and to ensure enjoyment of human rights for all, the opposition party must also not disappoint the people who came out in such numbers to support them in the past two years.

My parting advice to the leaders of the country, both in the Government and the opposition, would be to be principled in what they do. The reform process and the act of governance should be underpinned by the principles of legitimacy, transparency, consultation, and participatory democracy. The reform agenda is not the business of the ruling and opposition parties alone. It is a national agenda to which people from all walks of life should have an opportunity to contribute and have ownership.

The youth in particular, here in Cambodia as much as elsewhere in the world, are increasingly aware of their rights, and will continue to demand a better life and better performance and accountability from their State institutions to enable that to be achieved. While the political reconciliation between the two main political parties is welcome, they should strive hard to achieve wider reconciliation within Cambodian society and address the grievances of the people who have suffered from violations of their rights.

For genuine, long-lasting stability in the country, it is crucial that the people of Cambodia feel that they are well served – served, not ruled – by their political representatives. The extent to which they feel their interests are served will determine whether they express their will through their representatives or search for other means to do so.

Important laws have been enacted in recent past without meaningful public participation, and this worrying trend seems to be continuing with regard to other pending laws. This sends an unhelpful message to the public that the old ways of managing the country have not changed, and it is an injustice to the true reformers that I believe exist in both main parties who are doing the best they can within the means and the limits of their authority.

My advice is to open the critical process of law-making, and win over the critics – not by pushing them aside, but with the strength of your arguments and a demonstrated willingness to take the best route to solutions, no matter who they are proposed by.

In the area of land rights, extraordinary measures being taken now that explicitly aim, for the first time during my mandate, to restore land to the people from whom it was taken. Such measures give strong reasons for hope. I would encourage such measures to continue in a way that addresses all those with complaints fairly, rather than sporadically or for political gains.

Guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary will also be indispensable. Notwithstanding a number of positive elements of the three fundamental laws on the judiciary, the opaque process of their elaboration and enactment will continue to colour the way in which these laws are regarded until they are amended to guarantee the independence of the one institution that was established to provide final resolution to disputes.

While there is still a considerable way to go toward realising the vision of a liberal democracy and the objectives set out in the Paris Peace Agreements of 1991 which heralded a new democratic dawn for the country, I conclude my mandate with full confidence that Cambodia will get there – its vibrant people will ensure that it does.

It has been an honour and a privilege for me to have been able to make a contribution to the strengthening of the rule of law, democracy and human rights in the country at this historical juncture. With the assurance that I will remain forever a friend of Cambodia, I wish the people of Cambodia all the best in accomplishing these objectives and in building a more prosperous, tolerant, cohesive, equitable and fairer society for all in the years to come.

I thank the UN Human Rights Council for placing its trust and confidence in me by appointing me to this position in March 2009 and for renewing my mandate annually and then for an unprecedented term of two years twice, providing me with the stability needed to follow a more strategic approach.

It has been an immense privilege to have served the people of Cambodia and the UN Human Rights Council over the past six years. I would like to thank the Royal Government of Cambodia, the leaders of the opposition parties, human rights activists and the international diplomatic community based in Phnom Penh for their cooperation with me throughout my mandate.

My sincere thanks also go to the dedicated, committed and professional staff of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights both in Phnom Penh and Geneva for their excellent support. Above all, I would like to thank the people of Cambodia, especially the youth, for the welcome, warmth and support extended to me.

The UN Human Rights Council has appointed a very able person, Professor Rhona Smith, to succeed me. I hope the Government of Cambodia will extend its full cooperation to her and I wish her every success in assisting Cambodia towards building a stronger democracy and promoting genuine rule of law and greater respect for human rights in the country.”

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. 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:

The Special Rapporteurs are 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 that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Check the Special Rapporteur’s latest report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/24/36):

UN Human Rights, country page – Cambodia: 

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