Cambodia received comments from 73 UN member states that made a total of 202 recommendations for the Kingdom to improve its human rights record, in the third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Wednesday in Geneva, Switzerland.
A press release from the Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC) said it will hold consultative meetings with relevant stakeholders from state institutions and civil society organisations on the matter.
It said it will look into the recommendations before deciding to accept or reject some of them before an Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) session in July.
In a dialogue session, a group of countries – the US, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, France, Germany, Australia, Japan, Belgium, Great Britain and Northern Ireland – shared similar concerns and recommendations.
They expressed concern over the trial of Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha on treason charges, and recommended his unconditional release and the removal of the ban on 116 CNRP officials.
They also recommended an end to bonded labour, re-establishing the CNRP, opening space for civil societies, strengthening trade union laws, removing the inter-ministerial Prakas on the use of the Internet, and resolving land conflicts, among others.
Ken Okaniwa, the Japanese delegate, proposed advancing judicial reforms and establishing an independent justice system that is trusted and utilised by the people. He recommended following the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia as a model.
He further recommended that Cambodia promote dialogue among political actors, extend freedoms and rights of the people and promulgate the democratic process in order to unite the people towards development.
“In this process, ensure an environment in which all political actors, civil society, the media and others are respected, and their activities are not constrained,” he said, while welcoming the memorandum of understanding to extend the OHCHR’s office in Phnom Penh.
“We also look forward to concrete actions to be taken based on the government’s recent statement on further steps to strengthen the democratic political space, so that democracy in Cambodia will progress steadily”.
But many other countries focused their recommendations on improving the social, economic, health and education sectors. They included China, Singapore, and Russia to name a few.
China delegate Yu Jianhua urged the international community to respect the will of the people and government of Cambodia. His recommendations included continuing efforts on education, and to “continue to maintain social stability, and promote sustainable economic and social development to improve the people’s living standards and further reduce poverty.”
Russian delegate Anastasia Bagdatieva acknowledged the efforts of the government to combat extreme poverty, promote sustainable development, and improve health and education.
She said the Cambodian government was in a difficult position as it is called upon to resolve complex issues relating to capacity building in the area of human rights.
“We welcome the determination of Cambodia to find solutions by actively involving CSO. This is the right approach which is likely to accelerate the attainment of tangible results. It is clear that Cambodia must continue toward the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 agenda,” Bagdatieva said.
She said Russia commended Cambodia on its reforms to national legislation which offered women and children protection with regards to domestic violence.
In response to the concerns and recommendation, CHRC head Keo Remy made the government’s position clear, particularly on Kem Sokha.
He said Sokha’s treason charge was brought against him with clear evidence to prove that he was involved in a treasonous act with support from a foreign power to topple the legitimate government through undemocratic means.
He said such an illegal act was not a promotion of democracy, but subversion.
“It is really regretful to see that the legitimate actions of a sovereign state have been politicised under the banner of human rights and democracy due to the geopolitical interest of other states,” he said, hitting back at the criticisms.
He said that politicising human rights harmed national security and threatened the peace of the country.
In responding to the concerns of shrinking press freedom, Remy said it was a mere misperception. Cambodia had 800 print media, 70 online publications, 22 TV stations, 330 radio stations, and 38 journalist associations, he said.
He said Radio Free Asia and Voice of America could reopen their offices in Phnom Penh which they had voluntarily closed, while Cambodia Daily can resume its publication if it paid its taxes.
He also said the Kingdom is a paradise for NGOs. “You can imagine that the population is only 15 million, but Cambodia is home to almost 6,000 registered NGOs, local and international associations, and over 4,000 trade unions,” he said.
He reminded the delegates that “freedom of expression doesn’t mean freedom to insult, disseminate fake information, or to cause defamation to discredit someone”. Statements of hatred and xenophobia, he said, were prohibited in Europe.
Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Cambodia, Ney Samol, who also a part of Cambodian delegation, said some distinguished delegates prioritised civil and political rights over economic, social and cultural rights when addressing Cambodian issues.
He said these two fundamental groups of rights should not be treated differently.
“We listened to all concerns [that were] raised, but they should have been based on mutual respect. Any dialogue bearing an insulting, or humiliating character or politicisation as its nature are not welcome,” he said.
“The UPR process is not a forum to launch political propaganda for the benefit of one group in a political party at the expense of others. Human rights should not be politicised. It should be applied in a fair and impartial manner.”
Remy said interfering into the internal affairs of UN member states should be avoided as clearly stipulated in article 27 of the charter of the UN.