Cambodia: UN body slams violations of economic, social, and cultural rights


Paris, 15 March 2023. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) welcomes the findings recently made by a United Nations (UN) body, which underscored the Cambodian government’s serious violations of economic, social, and cultural rights. FIDH urges the government to take action to address the numerous issues identified by the UN body and implement its recommendations without delay.

On 3 March 2023, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESR) issued its concluding observations following the review of the country’s second periodic report under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The review was held on 21 and 22 February 2023 in Geneva, Switzerland. The CESCR monitors state parties’ compliance with their legal obligations under the ICESCR. Cambodia is a state party to this treaty. The CESCR’s findings mirrored those included by FIDH in its shadow report, which was published ahead of the CESCR’s review.

The CESCR identified three priority issues for the government to address: 1) human rights defenders and civil society organisations; 2) the rights of indigenous peoples; and 3) poverty.

With regard to the first issue, the CESCR called on the government to take measures to prevent acts of violence against, and the criminalisation of, human rights defenders and other civil society actors working on economic, social, and cultural rights. It also urged the Cambodian authorities to conduct prompt, thorough, impartial, and effective investigations into all acts of violence, threats, harassment, intimidation, and defamation committed against them. In addition, it called on the government to conduct a genuine, open, and transparent consultation with civil society organisations in the revision and amendment process of the Law on Association and Non-Governmental Organisations (LANGO).

With respect to the rights of indigenous people, the CESCR recommended the government: 1) ensure that indigenous peoples are not dispossessed, displaced, or relocated from their ancestral land, territories, and resources without following all legal and procedural international safeguards; 2) accelerate the process of registration and demarcation of indigenous land and territories; 3) adopt an adequate legal framework that provides effective recognition and protection to the rights of indigenous peoples to possess, use, develop, and control their lands, territories, and resources; and 4) ensure that effective mechanisms are in place to ensure the enforcement of such a legal framework. In addition, the CESCR recommended the ratification of ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (No. 169) and the implementation of procedures to guarantee the consultation and the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples before any measure that may affect their rights and territories.

With regard to poverty, the CESCR expressed concern over the reliance by many low-income households on loans from microfinance institutions to cover their basic needs – which the UN committee said had a negative impact on the enjoyment of the right to an adequate standard of living The CESCR called on the government to: 1) adopt adequate measures to protect borrowers, support them in overcoming the indebtedness situation, and avoid the loss of access to land which is used as collateral; 2) establish and enforce consumer protection laws and independent monitoring mechanisms of banks and microcredit institutions, with the aim of protecting borrowers from “aggressive” lending and collection practices; and 3) conduct a comprehensive assessment of the impact of indebtedness on the enjoyment of the rights guaranteed by the Covenant. These recommendations were reinforced by the CESCR’s calls on the government to “substantially” increase public social expenditure and expand minimum wage guarantees.

Among the many other issues of concern identified by the CESCR were land conflicts and trade union rights.

With regard to land conflicts, the CESCR expressed concern over the failure to resolve long-standing conflicts related to Economic Land Concessions and to implement reparations for victims. The “high number” of communities that had been forcibly evicted, or faced the risk of being forcibly evicted, were also of concern to the Committee. The CESCR separately called for the adoption of legal measures to ensure that business entities operating or domiciled in Cambodia conduct human rights due diligence and are held accountable for human rights violations that result from business activities and development projects.

With respect to trade union rights, the CESCR highlighted the numerous reports of trade union leaders, members, and workers who were subjected to violence, arrests, prosecutions, detention, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination for exercising their union rights. The Committee also noted that restrictive conditions for the registration of trade unions and for the exercise of the right to strike and collective bargaining persisted under the Law on Trade Unions.

Overall, the CESCR made about 70 recommendations to the government and requested it provide information on steps taken towards the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations on the three above-referenced priority issues by March 2025.

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