Significant challenges remain in the process towards full democratic governance in Cambodia, a United Nations independent human rights expert has said, while also recognizing the steps the country has taken towards democracy.
“Some of the current internal rules of procedure of the National Assembly are not conducive to enabling all members to enjoy freedom of speech in holding the executive to account and in defending the rights of the people they represent,” Surya Subedi, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, told reporters in Phnom Penh on Friday at the end of a fact-finding mission to the country.
“What is needed is the political will to accelerate the process of democratization. The institutions that are needed to implement the democratisation process are already in place, but the process of building these institutions as effective, independent and impartial State institutions has been frustratingly slow,” he said.
Mr. Subedi cited the recent cases in Parliament when members’ freedom to participate in debate was curtailed by the lifting of their parliamentary immunity on issues of national importance. Members were also denied the opportunity to make representations in their defence.
“A properly functioning democracy requires effective checks on the executive and the majority,” said Mr. Subedi. “The ability of Parliament in Cambodia to restrain the executive has been limited.”
He noted that while the general human rights situation in Cambodia had improved, the fear of legal action for alleged defamation, disinformation and incitement appeared to make journalists, human rights defenders and political activists resort to self-censorship.
“I am concerned by the use of such charges against land activists and individuals making claims on disputed land,” he said. “I am dismayed to hear about disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officials during peaceful protests by individuals involved in land disputes.”
He said he was encouraged by consultations on the draft laws on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and trade unions, expressing his hope that the final drafts would incorporate the suggestions made by the stakeholders.