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Cambodia must end harassment of human rights defenders: UN experts

19 April 2024

GENEVA (19 April 2024) – UN experts* today called on Cambodia to end all acts of harassment and prosecution against human rights defenders and civil society activists, and allow them to freely exercise their civil and political rights.

“We are seeing practices that clearly violate the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly as guaranteed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),” the experts said. “This will undoubtedly continue to have a chilling effect on the human rights work in the country and may further deter many from engaging on human rights issues.”

In recent days, several political and civil society activists, and human rights defenders have either been summoned or arrested by the authorities for acts related to their civic work.

These include the arrest on 5 April 2024 of Koeut Saray, the President of the Khmer Student Intellectual League Association (KSILA). He was taken from his office to the Phnom Penh Municipal Police Commissariat, before being transferred the next day to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. His arrest reportedly followed a court order for questioning for “incitement to cause serious chaos to social security”, which is believed to be linked to exercising his right to freedom of expression.

The experts said the new administration “should take the opportunity to tread a different path from the past and abide by its commitment to human rights and take effective steps to protect the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, which are vital in a democratic society”.

They called on authorities to “repeal national laws, particularly the criminal procedure code, which are inconsistent with international standards, engage in dialogue with the opposition and civil society actors, respect the diversity of opinions and ensure the country’s legislation is in line with international human rights law, including the ICCPR and the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.”

*Mr. Vitit Muntarbhorn, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia; Ms Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Clément Nyaletsossi VOULE, Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association

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.

UN human rights country page: Cambodia

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