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Special Rapporteur on Cambodia emphasises need for political will to tackle country's challenges
Monday, 01 October 2012 15:53



Despite significant progress towards democracy in Cambodia since the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991, the country still needs to make major changes to live up to its human rights obligations.  A particular issue for Cambodians and human rights defenders is the need for transparent democratic elections and the freedom for individuals to voice their political opinions. This is of particular importance because presidential elections will be held in July 2013. These issues came up particularly prominently during the interactive dialogue the Human Rights Council (the Council) held with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia on 25 September. The Special Rapporteur, Mr Surya Prasad Subedi, completed two missions in the past year as part of his mandate to assess the situation of human rights in the country. His first mission focused on the transparency of elections, while the second concerned the impact of economic land concessions on the enjoyment of human rights.


Mr Subedi expressed satisfaction with the cooperation of the Government with both of his missions and the commitment that Cambodia is showing to improve the human rights situation. He was also very pleased to find that during his reporting period, communal and local elections successfully took place. Mr Subedi believed this process is a major step forwards in order for Cambodians to exercise their right to free and democratic elections.  Mr Subedi applauded the Government’s decision, in response to concerns about the draft law on associations and non-governmental organisations, to continue consultations, even if that meant that the adoption of the law could thereby be delayed for some years.  


Mr Subedi expressed deep concern about the issue of land concessions, on which he focused during his second mission in May of this year.  Although he acknowledged the historical circumstances that have led to land concessions, he underlined the importance that these concessions should be granted in a sound legal manner. He regretted that most cases of land concession are unjustified and there are many cases of evictions as a result of land concessions.  Mr Subedi welcomed the Government’s decision, taken during his mission to the country, to temporarily suspend the granting of new economic land concessions and to review existing concession.  He called for this review to be participatory, transparent, and inclusive.  


In response, the Cambodian delegation emphasised the steps the country has taken to address the land concession issue.  Along with the suspension of new economic land concessions, it noted that the Government will revoke the economic land concession licenses of anyone breaching the existing agreements.  It has also established a programme to grant lands to those who are currently landless, particularly indigenous communities.


The interactive dialogue that followed saw many States voice their support for the advances that Cambodia has made towards becoming a democratic country.  Most of the ASEAN countries participated in the dialogue to express their full support for the efforts to ensure that the elections of July 2013 should be free and fair.


However, there were many States who were more critical of the human rights developments presented by Cambodia.  Australia expressed deep concern for the use of force against human rights defenders who peacefully protest to demand transparency in elections.  Australia highlighted the importance of allowing all voices to be heard without reprisals, which is an essential aspect of a genuine democracy.  Switzerland, France, and the European Union (EU) echoed this concern, petitioning to have stricter laws to prohibit harassment of individuals who are exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The United States (US) demonstrated the need for concrete steps to create a level electoral playing field, which provides the freedom for opposition parties to campaign.


States were also very critical on the issue of land concessions and the risks that land activists have encountered while protesting against land evictions.  The United Kingdom (UK) and the US noted that the number of land disputes has increased during the past year, highlighting the importance of establishing a mechanism that redistributes land equally and gives every citizen an equal voice.  The US recommended the creation of a dispute resolution mechanism that is independent, transparent, and fair, and treats all Cambodians equally and with respect for the rule of law.


Mr Subedi’s final remarks were in line with the support most States expressed for moves towards a stronger democracy in Cambodia that fully supports human rights. He highlighted that it is important for Cambodia to empower independent institutions to carry out the recommendations made by him in the past year.  Although he fully understands that it is a long and slow process, there are many recommendations that can be implemented immediately.  He repeated his call for Cambodia to decide on a plan of action with a concrete timeline. He added that he and OHCHR will provide any support required by the Government, but that the political will of the State is essential. 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 October 2012 10:51

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