Cambodia: UN body slams violations of civil and political rights

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Paris, 5 April 2022. The United Nations Human Rights Committee painted a grim picture of the situation of civil and political rights in Cambodia, amid the Cambodian government’s intensified repression of peaceful critics, political opponents, and members of civil society. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) welcomes the UN body’s assessment and urges the Cambodian government to take immediate action to address the numerous issues of concern identified by the UN.

“The UN Human Rights Committee set clear benchmarks against which progress on civil and political rights should be measured. The international community should take note of the recommendations made by the UN committee and press the government to implement them without delay, as crucial local and general elections approach.”

Adilur Rahman Khan, FIDH Secretary-General

On 30 March 2022, the UN Human Rights Committee (CCPR) issued its concluding observations on the situation of civil and political rights in Cambodia, following the review of the country’s third periodic report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The review was held from 9 to 11 March 2022 in Geneva, Switzerland. The CCPR monitors state parties’ compliance with their legal obligations under the ICCPR. Cambodia is a state party to the ICCPR.

Ahead of the upcoming Commune Council elections on 5 June 2022 and the general election in 2023, the CCPR expressed concern over: threats, harassment, arbitrary arrests, mass trials, revocation of passports, and acts of violence against members of the political opposition; the lack of independence and impartiality of the National Election Committee; the difficulties faced by new parties in undertaking an “equal, free, and transparent electoral campaign”; and persistent under-representation of women in leadership.

The CCPR reiterated its concern over the lack of progress in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for past human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. It was also “deeply concerned” about extrajudicial killings of opposition leaders, human rights defenders, journalists, and land rights activists, including the lack of effective and impartial investigations into these killings.

The CCPR remained concerned about the “persistent lack” of an independent and impartial judiciary and about the high number of allegations of corruption within the judiciary.

Other issues of concern for the CCPR were the persistent violations of freedom of expression in Cambodia, which included: the closure of multiple national and international media outlets; blockage of websites critical of the government; the use of criminal and civil legal actions against journalists and human rights defenders; and widespread harassment and intimidation of online activists. The CCPR noted that various criminal offenses contained in the Criminal Code and in the Law on Telecommunications, including defamation, incitement, insult, and lèse-majesté, were often used to disproportionately and excessively restrict freedom of expression.

The CCPR also expressed concern over the use of excessive and disproportionate force to disperse peaceful demonstrations, leading to widespread arrests and detention of protesters, including human rights defenders, environmental activists, opposition leaders, and trade unionists. The CCPR said the most recent amendments to the Trade Union Law and the draft Law on Public Order could further restrict the right of peaceful assembly.

The considerable increase in the prison population and overcrowded conditions was of concern to the CCPR, as well as the fact that prisoners had no adequate access to food, clean water, and medical treatment.

Concerning freedom of association, the CCPR noted that the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO) continued to be used to impose onerous reporting requirements for organizations leading to the denial of registration and to facilitate the surveillance of human rights defenders.

The CCPR also criticized the “far-reaching powers” that the Law on the Management of the Nation in State of Emergency (promulgated in April 2020) conferred on the government to severely constrain a range of fundamental rights and freedoms. In addition, it noted that the Law on Preventive Measures against the Spread of COVID-19 and other Severe and Dangerous Contagious Diseases (promulgated in March 2021) led to disproportionate restrictions of fundamental rights and freedoms, including the dispersing of peaceful assemblies.

Many of the CCPR’s findings mirrored the concerns raised by FIDH in its shadow report released ahead of the CCPR’s review.

The CCPR made more than 50 recommendations to the Cambodian government on a wide range of issues, including the above-referenced ones. The CCPR requested the government to provide, by 25 March 2025, information on the implementation of recommendations on three priority issues: corruption; freedom of expression; and political participation.

The previous review of Cambodia’s civil and political rights situation was conducted by the CCPR in March 2015.

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