Cambodia: Failure to Fulfill International Human Rights Obligations | Joint Oral Statement to the 42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council


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Organizations: Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), and International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Item: Item 10 – Interactive dialogue on the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia
Date: 25 September 2019
Speaker: Catherine Morris

Oral Statement to the 42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council from Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), NGOs in special consultative status

Thank you, Mr. President;

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) thank the Special Rapporteur for her reports.[1] Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, ensuring that no one is “left behind,” necessitates equal access to remedies for rights violations within a trustworthy and independent legal system.

Cambodia has not fulfilled its treaty obligations to establish judicial independence and integrity. Civil society’s rights advocacy is continually resisted.[2] Lawyers, defenders,[3] journalists,[4] politicians, or activists reporting on corruption,[5] election irregularities,[6] labour rights violations,[7] illegitimate land acquisition,[8] environmental degradation,[9] or other rights abuses, including by businesses, are routinely subjected to official vilification; intimidation; interference with rights to expression, association,[10] and assembly; criminalization; arbitrary detention;[11] and even unlawful killings with impunity.[12]

Since 2017, political opposition has been systematically suppressed, including through misuse of the judiciary. Despite the Special Rapporteur’s repeated calls for release of opposition leader Kem Sokha, he remains under court-imposed restrictions tantamount to house arrest. The Special Rapporteur has been denied visits with him[13] contrary to Special Procedures terms of reference for country visits.[14] In May, numerous former opposition members were summoned to court for questioning.[15] In September, the government threatened to arrest anyone supporting opposition politician Sam Rainsy’s return to Cambodia.[16]

Cambodia’s responses to Special Procedures’ recommendations for the past twenty-five years have been characterized by disregard, delay, resistance, or hostility.[17] Continued support for the Special Rapporteur’s mandate is critical to ensure that Cambodia fulfills its international human rights obligations. We request that the Council extend the mandate.

Thank you, Mr. President.


References

[1] Situation of human rights in Cambodia: Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, A/HRC/42/60, 27 August 2019, para 27, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/session42/Documents/A_HRC_42_60.docx; Assessing protection of those at risk of being left behind – Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, A/HRC/42/60/Add.1, 2 September 2019, https://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/42/60/Add.1.

[2] Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, and Asian Legal Resource Centre, The Roots of Cambodia’s persistent rights violations: Impunity of the powerful. Written Statement to the 42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council, A/HRC/42/NGO/103, 4 September 2019, https://www.lrwc.org/ws/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Cambodia.HRC42.WrittenStatement.G1926291.pdf.  For the fully referenced version of this written statement, see https://www.lrwc.org/cambodias-persistent-rights-violations-impunity-of-the-powerful-un-statement/.

[3] Oral update of the Special Rapporteur on her report to the Human Rights Council A/HRC/33/62, September 2016, https://cambodia.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/SR%20Rhona%20Smith%20statement%20Cambodia.pdf;

[4] Human Rights Watch, Cambodia, Drop Case Against Journalists, Bogus Espionage Charges to Silence Independent Voices, 24 July 2019, https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/07/24/cambodia-drop-case-against-journalists; CPJ, 9 Journalists Killed in Cambodia between 1992 and 2019 (Corruption, human rights, politics).

https://cpj.org/data/killed/asia/cambodia/?status=Killed&motiveConfirmed%5B%5D=Confirmed&type%5B%5D=Journalist&coverages%5B%5D=Corruption&coverages%5B%5D=Human%20Rights&coverages%5B%5D=Politics&cc_fips%5B%5D=CB&start_year=1992&end_year=2019&group_by=location; CPJ, Journalists charged with incitement for live-streaming land protest in Cambodia, 26 July 2019, https://cpj.org/2019/07/journalists-charged-with-incitement-for-live-strea.php.

[5] Cambodia: Three Years and Still No Effective Investigation into Dr. Kem Ley’s Killing, Joint Statement of 24 civil society organizations, 9 July 2019, https://www.lrwc.org/cambodia-three-years-and-still-no-effective-investigation-into-dr-kem-leys-killing-joint-statement/.

[6] Report of the Special Rapporteur, A/HRC/39/73/Add.1, 7 September 2018, paras 17, 76-78, see note 26.

[7] UN Human Rights Committee, Concluding observations on the second periodic report of Cambodia, CCPR/C/KHM/CO/2, 27 April 2015, para 12, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CCPR/C/KHM/CO/2&Lang=En.

[8] Coalition Calls on UN Expert to Investigate Claims of State-Backed Land Grabs in Cambodia, RFA, 12 November 2018, https://www.rfa.org/english/news/cambodia/coalition-11122018171045.html.

[9] Global Witness, Enemies of the State? How governments and businesses silence land and environmental defenders, 30 July 2019, https://www.globalwitness.org/en-gb/campaigns/environmental-activists/enemies-state/.

[10] Statement of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia, Professor Rhona Smith, 29 September 2015, https://kh.boell.org/sites/default/files/uploads/2015/10/statement_sr_-_hrc_sept_2015.pdf.  CCHR, 18 July 2019, see note 33; SR, End of Mission Statement, 9 May 2019, see note 12

[11] Oral update of the Special Rapporteur, A/HRC/33/62, September 2016, see note 34; End of Mission Statement, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Professor Rhona Smith, Phnom Penh, 8 November 2018, https://cambodia.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/pressstatementsource/181108%20ENG_END%20OF%20MISSION%20STATEMENT.pdf.

[12] Killings with impunity included murders of anti-corruption advocate Kem Ley in 2016, indigenous environmental Chut Wutty in 2012, and labour leader Chea Vichea in 2004. Cambodia: UN experts concerned by arrests around Kem Ley memorial service, 26 July 2019, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24850&LangID=E.Andrew Nachemson and Yon Sineat, 15 years on, justice elusive in Cambodia union leader’s murder, Aljazeera, 21 January 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/01/15-years-justice-elusive-cambodia-union-leader-murder-190121010702953.html; Human Rights Watch, “Tell Them That I Want to Kill Them”: Two Decades of Impunity in Hun Sen’s Cambodia, November 13, 2012, https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/11/13/tell-them-i-want-kill-them/two-decades-impunity-hun-sens-cambodia; UN Human Rights Committee, 2015, para 11, 12, 20, see note 38. Note that the international law definition of the term “extrajudicial killings” extends to any unlawful death committed by a state or non-state actor which a government fails to investigate, prosecute and hold perpetrators accountable. See the Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions on a gender-sensitive approach to arbitrary killings, A/HRC/35/23, 15 May 2017, para 35, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session35/Documents/A_HRC_35_23_AUV.docx.

[13] OHCHR, End of mission statement by United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia Professor Rhona Smith, 14 March 2018, https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22819&LangID=E.

[14] Human Rights Council, Revised Terms of Reference for country visits by Special Procedures mandate holders of the United Nations Human Rights Council (based on Appendix V, E/CN.4/1998/45), 2016, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/SP/ToRs2016.pdf.

[15] Similarly, in March, the courts issued arrest warrants for eight leaders of the political opposition living in exile. See Human Rights Watch, ‘Cambodia: Opposition Harassed in the Courts’, 7 May 2019, available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/05/07/cambodia-opposition-harassed-courts.

[16] Mech Dara, Support of CNRP return online will lead to arrest, Phnom Penh Post, 17 September 2019, available at: https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national-politics/support-cnrp-return-online-will-lead-arrest.

[17] See Michael Kirby, United Nations Special Procedures, Australian Year Book of International Law 2 (2010):  17-25, http://www5.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/AUYrBkIntLaw/2010/2.pdf; Kuch Naren and Simon Lewis, Subedi Protest Linked to CPP-Aligned Youth Group, Cambodia Daily, 23 May 2013, https://www.cambodiadaily.com/news/subedi-protest-linked-to-cpp-aligned-youth-group-26156/; Niem Chheng, Government hits back at Rhona Smith’s UN comments, 28 September 2018, https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/government-hits-back-rhona-smiths-un-comments; Rhona Smith’s statement raises questions, Khmer Times, 24 July 2018, https://www.khmertimeskh.com/514865/rhona-smiths-statement-raises-questions/.