Stop repression of civil society and address land rights issues ahead of UN review

Press release

(Paris, Phnom Penh) UN member states must make strong, targeted recommendations to urge the Cambodian government to stop the repression of civil society and address land rights issues during its third Universal Periodic Review (UPR), FIDH and its member organization the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) said today.

FIDH and LICADHO made the call on the occasion of the release of two joint submissions for Cambodia’s third UPR, which is scheduled to be held in January 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland.

“The international community must stand by Cambodian civil society and call on the government to end its repressive actions against human rights defenders, activists, NGOs, and independent media.”

Debbie Stothard, FIDH Secretary-General

One submission, prepared by FIDH and LICADHO, details the Cambodian government’s failure to successfully implement the recommendations it accepted on the protection of human rights defenders (HRDs) during its previous UPR in January 2014, as well as the significant deterioration of the human rights situation in Cambodia, particularly in the lead-up to the 29 July 2018 general election.

HRDs, members of civil society, and trade union activists have seen their fundamental rights to freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association severely curbed. The government has consistently used legal action, threats, harassment, and violence against them. In addition to this, peaceful demonstrations have become increasingly rare as the government has tightened its control over all public spaces.

A number of new laws, containing vague provisions designed to further restrict space for civil society, have been enacted and already used against government critics. A lèse-majesté offense was also included in amendments made to the Criminal Code. Newly introduced constitutional amendments also contain vague provisions that require every citizen to uphold the undefined “national interest” and to not “conduct any activities which either directly or indirectly affect the interests of the Kingdom of Cambodia and of Khmer citizens.”

The government has also sought to silence any dissenting voices in the political sphere and in the media. Multiple amendments made to electoral laws and the Law on Political Parties have been adopted and enforced to target the main political opposition, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November 2017. Both media workers and independent news outlets have also been subjected to attacks, in particular through the abuse of administrative measures, including the arbitrary and targeted use of tax and media licensing legislation.

In a separate submission, FIDH, LICADHO, and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) document land grabbing and related human rights violations that remain endemic throughout Cambodia.

Actions undertaken by the government in this area have failed to resolve the thousands of long-standing land disputes linked to concessions previously granted to private firms, many of which have ties to the government and the ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP). Thousands of families across Cambodia still await proper redress for their loss of land, homes, livelihoods, and other harm suffered as a result of these concessions.

The government has also sought to repress any protests related to land disputes, including through the use of violence and intimidation by armed security forces. HRDs and civil society activists who supported communities involved in land disputes, as well as environmental activists, have also been subjected to violence and intimidation during peaceful protests, in addition to spurious criminal charges brought against them.

“The Cambodian government’s failure to address the widespread land rights violations affecting communities has lasted too long. We urge the government to provide comprehensive and long-awaited redress for communities.”

Naly Pilorge, LICADHO Director
Press contacts
FIDH: Ms. Maryna Chebat (French, English) - Tel: +33648059157 (Paris)
FIDH: Mr. Andrea Giorgetta (English) - Tel: +66886117722 (Bangkok)
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