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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL DISCUSSES SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN CAMBODIA

Concludes Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the Democratic Republic of the Congo
27 September 2017

The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive dialogue with Rhona Smith, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, and concluded its enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Presenting her report, Ms. Smith said that despite the orderly conduct of the local level commune election on 4 June 2017, the general situation leading up to and after the election was alarming in a country which claimed to be a pluralist liberal democracy. Changes in the Law on Political Parties permitted the dissolution of political parties without appeal, and prohibited a party from using voice messages, images, written documents or activities of a person convicted of a felony or misdemeanour. There was pressure on non-governmental organizations and a dramatic reduction in freedom of the media, whereas the range of laws employed to restrict criticism against the Government and quell political debate continued to increase.

Cambodia, speaking as the concerned country, recalled that its recent past saw egregious crimes and despicable human rights abuses, under which millions of lives perished. Thanks to the win-win policy of the Prime Minister Samdech Hu Sen, the criminal enterprise was ended in 1998. Nowadays, Cambodia witnessed economic growth and declining poverty rates, ranking as one of the best performing economies in the world. But, based on selective and unverified sources, the Special Rapporteur stated that the situation in the country was reaching a dangerous tipping point. Political manipulation had been persistently conducted against the Government of Cambodia. Nonetheless, Cambodia remained committed to cooperate with all the United Nations human rights mechanisms.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers welcomed Cambodia’s ongoing cooperation with the Special Rapporteur, its engagement with the Universal Periodic Review, and its efforts to guarantee the rights of women and persons with disabilities. Nonetheless, they voiced concern about the Government’s continued crackdown on opposition parties, independent media and civil society, noting that in the current repressive climate, Cambodia could not possibly hold free and fair elections in 2018. They urged the Government to ensure an environment conducive to the conduct of political activities by all political parties, including through the reform of the Penal Code, which continued to be abused to silence the opposition. Some speakers stated that the Special Rapporteur’s report contained rather subjective prejudices that did not conform with the United Nations principles of objectivity, non-selectivity and impartiality. Cambodia maintained peace and economic development, and it should be able to choose its own development path.

Speaking were European Union, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, France, Thailand, Australia, Czechia, United States, United Nations Children’s Fund, China, United Kingdom, Mexico, Myanmar, Ireland, and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: International Catholic Child Bureau, Human Rights Watch, World Organization against Torture, Article 19 - The International Centre against Censorship, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development Forum-Asia, International Commission of Jurists, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, and the International Federation for Human Rights Leagues.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo which started on Tuesday, 26 September. The summary of opening statements delivered is available here.

During the discussion, speakers voiced deep concern about the severe crisis affecting the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly about the plight of women and girls. The sharp increase in refugees and internally displaced persons was alarming, whereas the constant postponing of the presidential and parliamentary elections had cast a long shadow on the democratic society in the country. They noted that the majority of extrajudicial killings had been committed by the defence and security forces, and asked that all perpetrators of crimes be brought to justice and that security forces refrain from the excessive use of force. Some speakers said that despite the challenges that the Democratic Republic of the Congo was facing, they appreciated the efforts of the Government to promote human rights, and they encouraged the Government to promote cooperation with various parties and to request technical assistance.

In his concluding remarks, Georges Kapiamba, Chairperson of the Congolese Association for Access to Justice, noted that the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was particularly worrying. It resulted from the authorities’ reluctance to give the necessary mandate to the Electorate Commission to organise the elections. That situation had led to demonstrations and political reaction and had turned into systematic repression supported by the Government and carried out by the security forces, the army and the intelligence service.

Cessouma Minata Samate, Commissioner for Political Affairs of the African Union, stated that the African Union fully concurred with the comments made by the speakers who called on the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to deliver justice to victims. The authorities had to take stock of all the comments concerning violations of human rights. They should work with international experts to investigate killings and serious human rights violations. She urged the Government to fully implement the Political Agreement of 31 December.

Marie-Ange Mushobekwa, Minister of Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, noted that the Independent Electoral Commission and the Government were trying to reach agreement on an electoral timetable. Elections would be held in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the international community could trust the Government to keep that promise. The country would not disintegrate, Ms. Mushobekwa stressed, and she deplored the targeted sanctions instituted by the European Union which were counterproductive.

Concluding the discussion, Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that only 10 per cent of the cases of violence committed by State agents had been brought to trial. She emphasised that technical cooperation was not an alternative to justice, adding that the call for exhumation of mass graves was not an interference in the sovereignty of the State. Investigations of mass graves in the Democratic Republic of the Congo must be held without delay. Ms. Gilmore urged the Government to ensure an effective protection for its own people, to investigate human rights violations, and to stand ready for scrutiny.

Speaking were the European Union, Canada, Sudan, Germany, Greece, Switzerland, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Czechia, Egypt, United Nations Children’s Fund, United States, Morocco, China, Portugal, United Kingdom, Mozambique, Botswana, Angola, Ireland, Algeria, Uganda, Congo, Holy See, Sweden on behalf of a group of countries, and Tunisia on behalf of the African Group.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: International Federation of ACAT Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture, Amnesty International, Espace Afrique International, Human Rights Watch, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme, African Development Association, and International-Lawyers.Org.

At noon, the Council will continue with its work under its agenda item on technical assistance and capacity building, holding an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, then hearing an oral update on the human rights situation in Libya by the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, followed by an interactive dialogue.

Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

European Union remained deeply concerned about the severe crisis affecting the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly about the plight of women and girls. The sharp increase in refugees and internally displaced persons was alarming, whereas the constant postponing of the presidential and parliamentary elections had cast a long shadow on the democratic society in the country. Canada stated that the downturn in the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was alarming, and it was deeply concerned about the high number of abuses committed by the military and security forces. The majority of extrajudicial killings had been committed by the defence and security forces. Sudan said that despite the challenges that the Democratic Republic of the Congo was facing, it appreciated the efforts of the Government to promote human rights. It encouraged the Government to engage in cooperation with various parties and to request technical assistance.

Germany noted that the Democratic Republic of the Congo was at risk of more violence and instability, which the international community should not allow. The country had the highest number of internally displaced persons, which had regional repercussions. Germany condemned the recruitment of children by militias and the destruction of civilian infrastructure. Greece voiced grave concern about the downturn in the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, noting that the worsening situation in the Kasai province had had an adverse effect on the entire population. All perpetrators of crimes had to be brought to justice and security forces had to refrain from the use of excessive force. Switzerland shared the concern about the downturn in the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including the banning of demonstrations and the violent crackdown on civil society, as well as arbitrary arrests. Impunity continued to be a problem despite the progress made in the fight against sexual violence.

France reiterated its concern at the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly in the Kasai province. Perpetrators of all violations should be brought to justice; political prisoners should be released and there should be full respect for press freedoms. Netherlands expressed grave concern at alleged violations of international humanitarian law, and supported an investigation into the Kasai situation. Humanitarian organizations should have full access throughout the country, and there should be timely elections in a free and fair manner. Belgium deplored the downturn in the social, economic and humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as the crackdown on democratic space. Holding free, fair and credible elections in the near future was essential, and freedom of expression and association had to be respected.

Czechia noted that the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was deteriorating, with massive human rights violations and with the civilian population being victimised. The Government needed to publish the election agenda immediately, and the Czech Republic stood ready with election monitors. Egypt welcomed all efforts to promote the judicial system and support the national human rights committee. Egypt further reiterated the importance of the international community coordinating efforts to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. United Nations Children's Fund expressed concern at the violence in the Kasai region, especially the situation of children there, who had been used in combat, which was a war crime. It was shocking that as part of the violence in the Kasai region, schools and hospitals had been attacked.

United States said that the political impasse in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was due to the electoral delay which had resulted in abuses of human rights. The Government was urged to do more to create an environment where civil society organizations and political groups could operate without harassment. The United States voiced concern at the alarming humanitarian situation in the Kasai province which had a disproportionate effect on children. Morocco thanked the Deputy High Commissioner for her presentation, in which she noted that progress had been achieved by the Government despite the challenges related to the security situation. Morocco congratulated the efforts made by the Government to protect human rights and to complete the electoral process under way. China welcomed the efforts made by all parties in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to conclude a political agreement and effectively implement it. China hoped that the Government and the people would have the wisdom to solve existing difficulties. The international community should continue its constructive assistance to the country.

Portugal took note of the positive steps taken by the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo such as the release of political prisoners. The deterioration of the situation of human rights, in particular the increase of violence committed by State agents, notably the police, was worrisome. The reduction of the democratic space in the country was of great concern. United Kingdom voiced concern about the situation in the Kasai region and the unrest in the eastern regions of the country. It was vital that those responsible for human rights violations were brought to justice. In the east, intercommunal violence continued and the humanitarian situation was deteriorating. The United Kingdom called on the Government to organize elections before the end of 2017. Mozambique commended the efforts of the Congolese Government to implement the political agreement which would lead to elections. Mozambique deplored the atrocities committed which had resulted in the displacement of about 1 million persons. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was called on to continue providing technical support and capacity building to the Government.

Botswana noted the concern regarding the narrowing of the democratic space and of civil society in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It encouraged the Government to continue cooperating with United Nations mechanisms, to take measures to enhance the participation in the political space, especially by women, and to create a conducive environment for elections. Angola welcomed the progress made in countering impunity for sexual violence and in access to justice made by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as the pursuit of the electoral process despite the ongoing challenges. The international community should support the national dialogue. Ireland was deeply alarmed about the reports of mass graves and killings in the Kasai province, as well as the massive displacement in the country. It called on the Democratic Republic of the Congo to investigate cases of mass violence in the Kasai region and to allow unimpeded access to the United Nations experts.

Algeria welcomed efforts made by the Democratic Republic of the Congo to promote and protect human rights, especially in countering sexual violence. It encouraged the Government to continue efforts to provide an appropriate response to the difficult situation in some parts of the country, and to deal with allegations of mass violence in the Kasai province. Uganda noted the negative impact of the activity of armed groups on civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The protection of civilians was the core of the mandate of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. To be effective, international assistance needed to respond to the Government’s needs. Congo noted with satisfaction the progress achieved by the Democratic Republic of the Congo in countering impunity for sexual violence and encouraged it to put an end to impunity for gross human abuses and to provide remedy to victims.

Holy See remained concerned about the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, noting that the conflict-affected areas suffered from human rights violations. All persons responsible for serious human rights violations should be punished, and the Government should conduct transparent investigations into alleged human rights abuses, including those committed by State agents. Sweden, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, expressed grave concern at human rights violations in the Kasai region in particular, and a long-term solution was a prerequisite for an improvement in the situation. The Government should ensure human rights were respected and protected, including for internally displaced persons and refugees; without a political solution the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo would not stabilize. Tunisia, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said with regard to the Kasai region, cooperation had led to the welcoming on the territory of international experts. Progress achieved by the national electoral commission was satisfactory when it came to the enrolment of voters.

International Federation of ACAT Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture said the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been characterized by a high number of human rights violations which could be attributed to State forces. The violence had increased during the course of 2017, with over 80 mass graves having been found; an independent international investigation should be set up. Amnesty International said there were ongoing reports of violations in the context of the delayed elections. The Council was urged to call on the Democratic Republic of the Congo to release all political prisoners and halt all actions that violated the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression. Espace Afrique International said that in addition to mass graves which had been documented, there was a threat of implosion and collapse when the current agreement became obsolete. The sole culprit for the situation was the Head of State; organizing credible elections in that climate was absolutely impossible.

Human Rights Watch said that the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo remained dire as the country’s political crisis deepened. The Government had systematically banned political opposition meetings and demonstrations, often by firing live bullets on those who dare to protest. International Federation for Human Rights Leagues was concerned about the serious ongoing crimes in Kasai province. In July 2017, an inquiry was made into these crimes revealing extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions and other crimes that could be attributed to State agents. There were serious concerns that these crimes might turn into ethnic cleansing. Rencontre Africaine pour la défense des droits de l’homme outlined that despite the efforts made by the international community, the Democratic Republic of the Congo remained the scene of all forms of violence. The limitation on civil society space and the continuing climate of impunity throughout the country, including the summary executions in the Kasai region, was equally deplorable.

African Development Association recalled that at the end of the second mandate of President Kabila in December 2016, the opposition and the President had signed an agreement. Unfortunately, the dreadful management of this agreement had resulted in the massacre of people in Kasai that had provoked a massive exile of refugees. International-Lawyers.Org deeply regretted that civilians were the first victims of the ongoing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The targeting of medical and education facilities was unacceptable. There were reports of soldiers shooting aid workers in South Kivu. The perpetrators of such crimes must be held accountable. Technical assistance and capacity building were needed for the relocation of refugees.

Concluding Remarks

GEORGES KAPIAMBA, Chairperson of the Congolese Association for Access to Justice,
noted that the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was particularly worrying. It resulted from the authorities’ reluctance to give the necessary mandate to the Electorate Commission to organise the elections. That situation had led to demonstrations and political reaction. That had prompted systematic repression supported by the Government and carried out by the security forces, the army and the intelligence service, whose member had never been brought to justice. The Human Rights Council, therefore, had to keep a close eye on the situation and it should not allow the Democratic Republic of the Congo to join the Council until it had met its obligations.

CESSOUMA MINATA SAMATE, Commissioner for Political Affairs of the African Union, stated that the African Union fully concurred with the comments made by the speakers who called on the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to deliver justice to victims. The authorities had to take stock of all the comments concerning violations of human rights. They should work with international experts to investigate killings and serious human rights violations. She urged the Government to fully implement the Political Agreement of 31 December. The electoral calendar had to be established and the African Union would assess the conditions for the holding of free and fair elections. A high-level African Union delegation was currently visiting Kinshasa to decide on how to best support the Government in finding a political solution acceptable to all.

MARIE-ANGE MUSHOBEKWA, Minister of Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said the Prime Minister had been appointed in April, noting that he came from the ranks of the opposition. The Independent Electoral Commission and the Government were trying to reach agreement on an electoral timetable, which would not be published hastily. Elections would be held in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the international community could trust the Democratic Republic of the Congo to keep that promise. A certain lady speaking on behalf of a non-governmental organization had said the mass graves in Kasai had been played down, but she was mistaken, as there really were mass graves in Kasai, but the right number of them was not known. They had to be exhumed and their contents investigated, so prosecutors could ascertain if they were mass graves. When sites had been exhumed in the past, a motorcycle had been found in one as well as a calibre 12 rifle. It was not known whether there were 87, 600 or 20 mass graves. The international team of inquiry had been appointed by the Human Rights Council, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo was ready to host them from October. Everything would be done to enable the team to work in conjunction with the Congolese judiciary. When inquiries were completed, the experts would convey their findings to the Congolese judiciary and they would be made public.

A comparison had been made between the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan. Everything was not rosy, but it was not a complete disaster either. A process of Balkanization would not happen; the country would remain integral. Reconciliation without justice was not possible. With regard to the South Kivu events, where members of the armed forces had shot refugees, the Inspectorate General of the Congolese armed forces had launched an inquiry. Police officers did not understand the role they were supposed to play and therefore engaged in arbitrary arrests, but every time that had happened, Ms. Mushobekwa said she had personally contacted those responsible. Capacities of police officers and judges had to be increased, and awareness needed to be raised; that would reduce the number of arbitrary arrests. Police officers had never received orders to arrest human rights activists. The Democratic Republic of the Congo deplored the fact that there had been targeted sanctions instituted by the European Union, which were counterproductive. The fact that a dialogue was being conducted at the Human Rights Council proved that human rights were being upheld despite problems.

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, highlighted that the joint human rights offices addressed the lack of independence of the judiciary system, both in the civilian and military systems, by training judges, lawyers and other judiciary personnel as well as the police and by bringing reforms in the system. Among the violence identified as committed by State agents, only 10 per cent of the culprits were brought to trial. The human rights offices also conducted visits in prisons with a view to address several issues, including the issue of overcrowding in detention centres. In the country’s prisons, 65 per cent of the detainees were held on administrative detention without trial. Each Government’s duty was to lead for all people, not some. Technical cooperation was not an alternative to justice. The call for the exhumation of mass graves was not an interference into the sovereignty of the States but a constitutional obligation. Investigations of mass graves in the Democratic Republic of Congo must be held without delay. The Government was urged to ensure effective protection for its own people and to investigate human rights violations and stand ready for the scrutiny. A society was judged on how it treated its weakest members.

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia (A/HRC/36/61).

Presentation by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia

RHONA SMITH, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, updated the Council on the developments in Cambodia since May 2017, given the radical developments since the report had been submitted. Cambodia was between elections. The local level commune election on 4 June 2017 appeared to have been orderly and with few irregularities requiring resolution by the National Election Committee. The voter registration programme had gone well and some 90 per cent of the electorate had cast votes. However, the general situation leading up to and after the election was alarming in a country which claimed to be a pluralist liberal democracy. There had been two particularly pertinent changes in the Law on Political Parties, one in February 2017, which had permitted the dissolution of political parties without appeal, and one in June 2017. which prohibited a party from using voice messages, images, written documents or activities of a person convicted of a felony or misdemeanour. In the Cambodian context, those amendments disproportionately affected the political opposition actors. In practice, the fate of the political opposition appeared to be in the hands of the executive. Since early August 2017, the presidents of three opposition parties had been detained. The regular violent rhetoric of Government ministries and senior military officers created fear. Ms. Smith underlined that regular threats and scaremongering had no place in a peaceful society such as Cambodia which still bore the scars of its tragic past. She called on the Government, the Parliament and the judiciary to take steps to ensure that the in flagrante delicto provisions were only used in situations which met the normal definition of that term. It was the fourth time in two years that it had been used to arrest an opposition member of the Parliament. Great care also had to be taken to ensure that there was a strong evidentiary base for any charges levied. Ms. Smith noted the disparate evidentiary standards used in courts and she repeated her call for the standard of proof to be the same in all cases and for the Ministry of Justice to consider drafting guidelines on evidentiary requirements.

The reported pressure on non-governmental organizations had been compounded over the past few months with the application of various provisions of the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations. All civil society organizations were required to submit accounts to the Ministry of Interior and many organizations had concerns about that as an intrusive form of monitoring and control. In contemporary Cambodia, almost anything could be alleged to be political. Calls for respect for human rights and democracy were being branded as political manipulation and biased attacks against the Government. The Government should revert to the protection and encouragement of the vibrant civil society for which the country had been known and rightly celebrated. Any restrictions on activities should only be as necessary in accordance with both Cambodian and international human rights laws, Ms. Smith emphasised. A related issue was the dramatic reduction in freedom of the media in Cambodia. The range of laws employed to restrict criticism against the Government and quell political debate continued to increase. The Government, on its part, had publicly expressed concern over what it considered a campaign of disinformation twisting historical facts and events in an attempt to create a negative image of Cambodia and blame the Government.

Ms. Smith also drew attention to prison overcrowding which had deteriorated to dangerous levels. Due to the Government’s active campaign against drugs, some 10,000 individuals had been arrested or detained. Work needed to be done in order to ensure that their detention was regularly reviewed, in accordance with law, and was not arbitrary. Turning to the arrest and detention of human rights activists, Ms. Smith noted that it was a violation of the right to be tried without undue delay for charges to linger indefinitely and be reactivated seemingly at random. Should sufficient evidence not be available to bring the case to trial, the charges should be dropped and their records expunged. Nevertheless, Ms. Smith welcomed moves towards greater transparency in the justice system, such as the rolling out of an electronic criminal database and the planning of a comprehensive electronic case management system. The plans for progressing the Sustainable Development Goals were still being prepared and Ms. Smith looked forward to them. She expressed hope that the Government would retreat from the precipice it was teetering on. The path of peaceful transition in Cambodia had to be continued.

Statement by the Concerned Country

NEY SAM OL, Permanent Representative of Cambodia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, recalled that Cambodia had attached great importance to the mandate of the Special Rapporteur since 1993. Cambodia had been in regular dialogue with six-country Special Rapporteurs for a quarter of a century, during which all requested in situ visits and proposed meetings had been accepted. Cambodia’s recent past saw egregious crimes and despicable human rights abuses, under which millions of lives perished. Thanks to the win-win policy of the Prime Minister Samdech Hu Sen, the criminal enterprise was ended in 1998. This tragedy received strong condemnation by the international community and the United Nations. As a result, the Khmer Rouge Tribunal was established, on which millions of dollars were spent, to try those responsible for these crimes. Today, Cambodia was witnessing economic growth of an average 7.7 per cent over a period of more than two decades and it was projected to be at 7.1 per cent this year and the year after. Poverty rate had declined from 53 per cent in 2004 to 13.5 per cent in 2014, ranking the country as one of the best performing economies in the world. In June this year during communal elections, 7.8 out of 9.6 million eligible voters registered to cast their ballots. The turnout was unprecedentedly high with 89.52 per cent of participation.

But unfortunately, the Special Rapporteur once again negatively saw these performances as a glass-half empty. Cambodia was party to eight out of nine core international human rights instruments and had accepted 79.5 per cent of the recommendations presented during the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review. However, based on selective and unverified sources, the Special Rapporteur stated that “Cambodia situation is reaching a dangerous tipping point”. Political manipulation had been persistently conducted against the Government of Cambodia. However, Cambodia remained committed to cooperate with all the United Nations human rights mechanisms.

Interactive Discussion on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia

European Union concurred with the Special Rapporteur’s overall assessment that signs of progress in some areas of human rights had been overshadowed by numerous human rights concerns and political tensions. The Special Rapporteur was asked what prospects she now saw for free and fair national elections in 2018, and what more the Council could do to support respect for human rights in the build-up to elections. Germany called on the Government of Cambodia to take immediate steps to re-establish an enabling environment for pluralistic views. The Special Rapporteur was asked how the role of non-governmental organizations and other segments of civil society could be strengthened. Switzerland welcomed the Cambodian Government’s signature of the Memorandum of Understanding with the local Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights. The Special Rapporteur was asked what she saw as the most urgent measure for the Cambodian Government to take to assure the upcoming elections were held smoothly and democratically.

Japan said it had submitted a draft resolution on the human rights situation in Cambodia, which included a two-year extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. She was asked to share her thoughts on the background to the recently heightened tensions, as well as what kind of technical cooperation Cambodia needed to improve the situation. France said very worrying developments for democracy in Cambodia had been seen lately, expressing concern about the closure of several media outlets in Cambodia. France was concerned about the arrest of human rights defenders, and called on the Cambodian Government to shed light on the death of Kem Ley on 10 July 2016. Thailand welcomed progress made by Cambodia, and noted that as a fellow member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Thailand would continue to cooperate closely with Cambodia. Thailand reaffirmed its readiness to support Cambodia in the field of human rights promotion and protection.

Australia welcomed Cambodia’s ongoing cooperation with the Special Rapporteur, its engagement with the Universal Periodic Review, and its efforts to guarantee the rights of women and persons with disabilities. Nonetheless, Australia shared concern that the democratic space was shrinking. Czechia appreciated Cambodia’s ongoing cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur. However, it was concerned about the restrictions on the freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. United States noted the progress made by Cambodia, including on education, the rights of children, and continued economic development. Nevertheless, it remained gravely concerned about the Government’s continued crackdown on opposition parties, independent media and civil society.

United Nations Children’s Fund noted that children in residential care facilities in Cambodia remained among the most vulnerable. They were at high risk of physical and sexual abuse and exploitation. The absence of a comprehensive child protection system and the critical shortage of Government social workers deprived children and families from protection services. China stated that the Special Rapporteur’s report contained rather subjective prejudices that did not conform with the United Nations principles of objectivity, non-selectivity and impartiality. Cambodia maintained peace and economic development, and it should be able to choose its own development path. United Kingdom remained gravely concerned about the human rights situation in Cambodia, and it urged the Government to ensure an environment conducive to the conduct of political activities by all political parties.

Mexico thanked the Special Rapporteur for presenting her report. Mexico recognized the progress made by Cambodia and praised the adoption of a memorandum in December 2016 allowing the establishment of a country office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Nevertheless, human rights defenders and trade union members continued to be threatened and detained. Myanmar took note of the report of the Special Rapporteur and commended the progress made by Cambodia over the past years. The international community should continue providing technical assistance and capacity building to the country. Ireland was deeply concerned about the deterioration in the civil society and democratic space in Cambodia where non-government organizations’ representatives, trade union members and journalists still found themselves subject to threats and harassment. The Government was urged to ensure that civil society was free to operate. Lao People’s Democratic Republic commended Cambodia’s constructive engagement and cooperation with the United Nations human rights’ mechanisms. Lao People’s Democratic Republic particularly welcomed the process of election of the Commune Council held on June 4, 2017 in a free and fair manner.

International Catholic Child Bureau noted that despite some progress made on the implementation of the rights of the child, concerns remained about the neglect and abuse of children, including sex tourism, lack of access to education and dependency on drugs. The more children were left without protection, the more they were subjected to exploitation and abuse. Human Rights Watch stressed that almost all broadcast media in Cambodia today was under the Government’s control. Independent radios had been closed. The use of the Department of Taxation by the Government to intimidate human rights defenders and media operators was of great concern. The findings of a pre-election report should be a red line in the resolution currently under consideration.

World Organization against Torture believed that Cambodia could not possibly hold free and fair elections in 2018, given the ruling party’s false narrative of a “colour revolution” that painted the political opposition, civil society and independent voices as would-be revolutionaries. Article 19 - The International Centre against Censorship raised concern about the escalation of the crackdown on journalists and independent media, human rights defenders, particularly those working on environmental issues, and the judiciary, and called for the reform of the Penal Code which continued to be abused to silence the opposition. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development Forum-Asia was concerned about unprecedented attacks on civil society, the media and opposition parties in the aftermath of the commune council elections in June, and the adoption of repressive laws in recent months to constrain free media and civil society organizations ahead of the 2018 elections.

International Commission of Jurists stressed that the monitoring and action by the international community had seldom been more important for Cambodia since the Paris Peace Accords had been signed in 1991, as civil society, free media and the opposition were under sustained attack in what appeared to be a carefully orchestrated effort to silence dissenting voices. Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada shared the concerns that the Special Rapporteur had raised about the administration of justice and the lack of independence of courts, which enabled the executive to continue and increase human rights violations and criminalize peaceful activities of civil society, media and human rights defenders. International Federation for Human Rights Leagues condemned the crackdown on human rights defenders, activists and political opposition and stressed that without the full enjoyment of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association there was no chance that next year’s elections would be credible, inclusive or participatory.

Concluding Remarks

RHONA SMITH, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, noted the numerous requests for regular updates and monitoring, as well as for technical assistance for Cambodia. The issue of capacity building was not the answer to everything happening in Cambodia, and that request could not be met due to budget restrictions. As for regular information gathering, Ms. Smith said they were limited by the budget. Whereas Cambodia had developed rapidly in economic terms, it was up to the Member States to determine what level of assistance should be provided to that country. For elections to be free, fair and credible, it was necessary that the current voting registration system continued and that all those who were eligible to vote were able to vote irrespective of their personal status or political opinion. There should be information on what people were voting for. There had to be free choice without any intimidation and threat before and after the election. As for Cambodia’s remarks, Ms. Smith stood by her comments, reminding of the threats and violence perpetrated against voters. She welcomed the references to children’s rights and said she would elaborate on them in her next report. The Government of Cambodia should ensure the enjoyment of all human rights, including the credibility of elections, which was currently under threat. It was, nevertheless, necessary to retreat from the precipice, Ms. Smith emphasised. She reiterated her commitment to work with Cambodia and all other stakeholders to advance human rights in that country.



For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC/17/153E