Cambodia: amid human rights progress, UN expert calls for more reform

UN expert on human rights in Cambodia Surya Subedi (right) on a visit to the country in May 2012.
OHCHR Cambodia
UN expert on human rights in Cambodia Surya Subedi (right) on a visit to the country in May 2012.

Cambodia: amid human rights progress, UN expert calls for more reform

Cambodia may be on the verge of a new era in human rights protection, an independent United Nations human rights expert declared today, adding that while the political momentum in the country was headed in a “positive direction,” a strong human rights infrastructure was still needed in order to establish “far-reaching and meaningful reform.”

In his address to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Surya P. Subedi noted that the situation in the country was “very different” from the one that existed when he first assumed his post as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia five years ago. He warned, however, that the lack of independent monitoring institutions risked stunting the country’s progress on human rights issues.

“The political environment may have changed in Cambodia, but the fundamentals of governance and human rights protection have not,” stated Mr. Subedi, who urged the Government to “reconsider its opposition to independent institutions.”

“Only when such independence is guaranteed, of the judiciary, the National Election Committee, and Parliament itself, Cambodia will be on the path towards real reform.”

Over the course of his mandate, Mr. Subedi has advocated for judicial reform, among other things, and he lamented the progress in bringing to justice those responsible for a spate of incidents involving excessive force against protesters.

As recently as July 2014, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) reported that peaceful protests led by members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) quickly escalated into violent clashes, leaving up to 40 people injured. Five CNRP Members of Parliament-elect and one CNRP activist were subsequently arrested.

“What Cambodia needs now is to adopt a strong human rights infrastructure that can support far-reaching and meaningful reform,” Mr. Subedi continued.

“It is the implementation of meaningful reform that will demonstrate the tangible progress to the people of Cambodia, as well as the international community, necessary to show that Cambodia no longer needs this mandate.”

In addition, he called for the Government to revisit issues of land rights policy development, noting that many people on the margins of society continued to suffer from human rights violations.

Nevertheless, Mr. Subedi praised the Cambodian Government and its people for the progress made so far, declaring that the Cambodian people had “found their voice” and suggesting that the country itself was on “the cusp of historical changes that could usher in a new era for human rights protection.”

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.