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Council renews mandate on Cambodia amidst concerns over draft NGO law
Monday, 03 October 2011 13:28

 

On 28 September 2011, the Human Rights Council (the Council) held an interactive dialogue, under agenda item 10, with Professor Surya Prasad Subedi, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia. Mr Subedi was generally pleased with the efforts Cambodia has made since the country began its peace process with the Paris Peace Agreements in 1991. However, Mr Subedi expressed concern about the overall state of human rights issues, including freedom of expression, and land and housing rights. Mr Subedi also expressed his concern about a draft law that would limit the activities of NGOs within the country. States commended Cambodia for its achievements but noted that much work still needed to be done to improve the human rights situation in the country. Although there was little discussion on an extension to the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, States seemed to implicitly support such an extension as indicated by their endorsement of Mr Subedi’s reservations over the NGO draft law as well as numerous other substantive human rights issues.

 

Despite being pleased with the social and political progress made in Cambodia since the Paris Peace Agreements, Mr Subedi cautioned that 'the peace process cannot be regarded as complete until the democratic institutions created under the Constitution are able to work effectively and independently'. Mr Subedi continued by reflecting on land rights in the country, saying that while Cambodia had made some progress last year in protecting and promoting land rights, the recent demolition of five houses in the Boeung Kak area in the capital city of Phnom Penh was a regression. Mr Subedi called on Cambodia to resist carrying out the practice of forced evictions and displacing families without notice. Mr Subedi also highlighted the decreasing space for freedom of speech, which has seen targeting of human rights defenders and activists, and a number of individuals charged, tried, and jailed for producing and sharing materials critical of the Government.

 

Most troubling of all to Mr Subedi was the introduction of a draft law by the Ministry of the Interior, on 15 December 2010, on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations. While Mr Subedi stated that he was encouraged by the consultations on this draft law carried out by the Ministries of Interior and of Foreign Affairs, he warned against finalising a law that would restrict the activities of NGOs, rather than enabling them to strengthen their activities. Mr Subedi urged Cambodia not to proceed with the current draft NGO law as it may impede the legitimate work of NGOs by placing burdensome requirements on them.

 

Finally, Mr Subedi returned to the issue of freedom of speech, saying that while the notions of pluralism and liberalism are enshrined in Cambodia’s Constitution, individual members of Parliament are unable to fully exercise freedom of speech when questioning the executive or defending the rights of their constituents. Mr Subedi said he has offered a series of recommendations to Cambodia in hopes that State implementation of those recommendations will protect freedom of speech in Parliament.

 

Speaking as the concerned State, Cambodia thanked the Special Rapporteur for his work and recommendations. Cambodia said it was making efforts to improve its judiciary, combat corruption, and promote democratic development, including at the grassroots level. It stated that it had a vibrant civil society, tallying nearly 2000 NGOs and other organisations that enjoy the Government’s full cooperation and that play a key role in ensuring good governance and in facilitating the provision of social services. Cambodia underscored its pledge to individual freedoms as one of the fundamental components of democracy and emphasised that it was continuing to protect and promote all human rights, including the right to freely express one’s self.

 

During the interactive dialogue most States[1] praised Cambodia for the progress made. This did not, however, prevent States from also claiming that Cambodia still had a long way to go. Australia shared the Special Rapporteur’s concerns on the curtailing of basic freedoms and felt the NGO draft law could hamper freedom of association and expression, a concern that was also mentioned by Japan, the US, Ireland, the UK, France, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, and Canada. Romania encouraged Cambodia to seek a comprehensive solution to the issue of property rights, and the US referred to property right violations cited in the Special Rapporteur’s report. Indonesia said that based on its own experience, it understood the development challenges experienced in Cambodia. Indonesia called on Cambodia to improve the implementation of laws already passed that were designed to advance human rights. Norway expressed concern about forced evictions, denial of the human rights of the victims of evictions, and ‘unfounded charges’ made against individuals who protested against the evictions. France said it was worried by the intimidation used against human rights defenders as well as against victims of land right disputes.

 

There was suprisingly little mention during the interactive dialogue of the future of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia. Viet Nam asked the Special Rapporteur for his personal advice regarding the duration of his mandate. The Philippines expressed reservations about extending the Special Rapporteur’s mandate for an additional two years because they felt this did not comply with the Institution Building text, in resolution 5/1, which states that country mandates are generally renewable for one year at a time.  Viet Nam, Indonesia, and Myanmar made similar arguments, calling on the Council to respect resolution 5/1. Switzerland and Canada explicitly supported an extension to the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, with Canada saying it wanted to see a two-year extension to the mandate. The resolution was introduced to the Council a few days later, and the Council decided by consensus to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for a further two years. The Russian Federation and China, while not breaking from consensus, dissociated themselves from paragraph 9 of the resolution, which sets out the two year extension.

 

Overall, States were generally supportive of Cambodia and commended it for its cooperation with the Special Rapporteur as well as with the international community. The Asian States were most supportive in their comments.  Viet Nam said it was happy that Cambodia was becoming a free and democratic country. The Philippines cited Cambodia’s 6% economic growth over the last year as being impressive given the current global economic climate. Thailand welcomed Cambodia’s efforts to protect and improve the human rights of its citizens. Malaysia said the international community should appreciate Cambodia’s achievements so far and it should be afforded more space to continue its reform process. China called on States to continue providing Cambodia with technical assistance. Nepal commended Cambodia for improving the standard of living in the country. Other States noted the development challenges faced in Cambodia but also felt that more could be done to further human rights protection in the country.

 

Mr Subedi concluded his comments by saying he was encouraged by the steps Cambodia was taking to implement his recommendations. He said a review of the NGO draft law was currently being under-taken by the Ministry of the Interior and he hoped the Ministry would consult all relevant parties to avoid drafting a law that would prevent civil society organisations from continuing to serve the Cambodian people. Mr Subedi asked Cambodia to examine his recommendations on parliamentary participation so that all Members of Parliament could exercise freedom of speech. Regarding his future, Mr Subedi was brief, and said he intended to continue working with the Government to strengthen institutions such as Parliament, to achieve rule of law, and to conclude implementation of the Paris Peace Agreements begun in 1991.



[1] The following States issued comments during the Interactive Dialogue: Australia, Japan, European Union, Viet Nam, Romania, Singapore, Philippines, Ireland, United States, Czech Republic, Thailand, Algeria, United Kingdom, Malaysia, France, Indonesia, Norway, Switzerland, China, Sweden, Myanmar, Nepal, and Canada.

Last Updated on Monday, 03 October 2011 15:46
 
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