UNHRC: Situation for freedom of expression in Cambodia is deteriorating

Article 19 delivered the following oral statement to the 27th Session of the UN Human Rights Council: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, statement delivered under item 10.

Mr. President,

ARTICLE 19 welcomes Special Rapporteur Surya Subedi’s final report on Cambodia to the Human Rights Council. The presence of the UN in Cambodia, in particular its Special Procedures, is essential given the country’s lack of independent human rights accountability mechanisms and the persistence of the Cambodian government in committing human rights violations with complete impunity.

While we appreciate the meticulous detail of this report, we respectfully disagree with the comment that Cambodia is a “maturing democracy” that is “evolving in a generally positive direction”. Rather than improving, ARTICLE 19 finds that in the last two years the situation for freedom of expression has seriously deteriorated compared to when the Special Rapporteur first began his mandate.

Although Cambodia has signed onto many international human rights treaties and has accepted 163 of its most recent UPR recommendations, these promises alone are simply not enough. We call on the Royal Government of Cambodia to put words into action, and to follow through on these commitments.

Cambodia cannot be considered on an upward trajectory for human rights when poorly drafted laws restricting freedom of expression continue to be developed, more often than not in complete secrecy and without public consultation. Restrictive draft laws, such as the Computer Crimes Law and the Law on Associations and NGOs, together with other restrictive laws, loom above the heads of all Cambodians and force them into a culture of self-censorship, where silence has become the only effective form of protection. Civil society space continues to shrink, as evidenced by the closure of Freedom Park for approximately seven months this year and the recent crackdowns on demonstrations that have led to injuries and fatalities.

Although we agree that 2013 marked what the Report described as a “political awakening” for the Cambodian people, we note that with increased civic actions there have been a corresponding increase in the use of violence, harassment and legal threats by the Cambodian authorities against demonstrators, the media, oppositional party members, and human rights defenders. It is encouraging to witness civil society empowered to speak out, however this movement will undoubtedly suffer if the Cambodian government does not respect and protect the voice of its people.

Thank you Mr. President.

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