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26 September 2012

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi, urged the Cambodian authorities to implement reforms to ensure that next year’s general election are free and fair. He also called for greater transparency and adherence to the law for the granting and management of economic and other land concessions.

“Although Cambodia has made significant progress in strengthening democracy, human rights and the rule of law, I remain concerned by the capacity gaps that persist in the electoral process” and “the human cost of many land concessions in Cambodia”, Mr Subedi said during the presentation of two reports* to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The reports are the results of his last two fact-finding missions to Cambodia. In December 2011, during his sixth visit to the country, the United Nations independent expert focused on a human rights assessment of State institutions linked to the electoral process in Cambodia, as the country was about to enter a two-year period of elections. His seventh mission, in May 2012, focused on the impact of economic and other land concessions on people’s rights in Cambodia.

Electoral process: “Reforms needed to ensure free and fair elections”

On the eve of the National Assembly elections scheduled for July 2013, Mr Subedi stressed the importance of creating “an environment that would be conducive to holding free and fair elections, and ensuring the respect of human rights before, during and after polling day.”

While the commune (local) elections which took place in June 2011 were generally conducted in a more peaceful and open environment than previous elections in 2007 and 2002, Mr Subedi said “reforms are needed to ensure that elections in Cambodia are free and fair and that Cambodians can exercise their right to democratic governance in a free political environment”.

Focusing on the independence and capacity of the National Election Committee and the provincial elections committees, the Special Rapporteur noted areas of concern in the administration of elections in Cambodia, and called for urgent and longer-term reforms to give Cambodians confidence in the electoral process and in the workings of the electoral authorities.

Economic/Land concessions: “Lack of transparency and adherence to the law”

“The granting and management of economic and other land concessions in Cambodia suffer from a lack of transparency and adherence to existing laws,” noted Mr. Subedi in his report on the impact of economic land concessions on people’s rights in Cambodia. “The existence of the legal framework on paper is one thing; the implementation of the law is another.”

“These developments should ultimately benefit the people of Cambodia”, Mr. Subedi said. “But communities are often not aware when and how a concession is being granted near them, and they are rarely consulted by the authorities or businesses in a meaningful way, or indeed at all, on the impact of concessions on their lives and livelihoods.”

The Special Rapporteur noted that, since there is often no avenue for their concerns to be raised in a structured and meaningful way, many communities are forced to seek redress in the courts, to petition provincial and national authorities, or take to the streets. Mr Subedi said “The level of protests linked to land disputes -which are often violent- is a great concern”, and he urged all involved- communities, authorities and companies to do their utmost to avoid violence.

Speaking of well documented, serious and widespread human rights violations associated with land concession, Mr. Subedi highlighted the need for dispute resolution and remediation, adding that criminalisation of land activists and human rights defenders is also worrying.

Underscoring that his mandate and reports were intended as constructive assistance to the authorities, Mr Subedi urged the Royal Government of Cambodia to commit itself to a timeframe or a concrete plan of action to implement recommendations he has made to it thus far.

(*) The full reports

Electoral process:

Economic and other land concessions:

Professor Surya P. Subedi was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council as the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia in March 2009. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organisation and serves in his individual capacity. He is currently Professor of International Law at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.

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