Cambodian Mission: Cambodia’s Assorted Rights Praised at UN Debate in Geneva 

The following is a statement of Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the UN Office at Geneva H.E. An Sokkhoeurn, dated Oct. 6:

“A total of 39 state delegations attended an Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur (SR) on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia, held on Oct. 5, 2022 in Geneva.   
Thirty (30) of them spoke in favor of efforts, progress and achievements of Cambodia has realised in promoting and protecting human rights on many fronts, and urged the SR’s working methods to be balanced and constructive, taking into account the perspective of the government and national circumstances. They commended, inter alia, the successful responses to the Covid-19, particularly the near-universal vaccination and social protection initiatives in support of women, job-suspended workers and vulnerable groups; religious freedom; rising literacy rate; and the extensive consultations among wide-ranging stakeholders on the draft law on national human rights institution. Some welcomed Cambodia’s successful holding of communal elections with nine political parties having won the communal council seats, and the efforts to ensure that these elections were held in a free, fair, orderly, peaceful and transparent manner. Cambodia’s success in chairing ASEAN-related meetings in August 2022 was also recognized.   
The other 09 delegations taking part in the discussion with critical comments urged Cambodia to broaden civic and political space, including further respect for freedom of expression, media and peaceful assembly, and independence of judiciary. Concurrently, almost all of them welcomed the Kingdom’s ongoing cooperation with the UN human rights mechanisms, including facilitation of the SR’s recent visit to the country, and progress on economic, social and cultural rights, particularly the health-related front. They also positively noted the efforts to strengthen social protection system, advanced positioning towards LGBTIQ community, and ongoing work on preventing gender-based violence and furthering disability reform areas. Some stated the partial return to political pluralism following the local elections in 2022, progress toward establishment of the national human rights institution, and the striving of promoting fundamental freedom.  
During the debate, the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva shared his observations on the SR’s report as follows:  
– We note that the report recognises, in a very brief and narrow scope, certain positive elements. Despite the government’s genuine cooperation, we regret that the report does not set the record straight on many fronts due to incomplete and unbalanced integration of factual and legal accounts of various bodies of the state provided. On this partial basis, conclusion of political nature was drawn. 
– The lacking concrete proofs compromise the report’s credibility and impartiality. How can an objective and credible report contain phrases of uncertainty? Among them were “A person is possibly incarcerated because of his family’s background” and “implying perhaps a political assassination”. Such a vague conclusion gives room for politicised speculations. Equally, the SR’s flat refusal to offer a medical proof of an individual he advocated for having autism brings into question his highest observance of the Code of Conduct, mandating him to rely upon facts. 
– The SR’s report also contains subjective and selective particulars. To state that “a large number of candidates were delisted in 2022 under questionable circumstances” lacks clear content. The truth is the rulings were issued in a strict adherence to the communal election law and on the basis of concrete evidences, testimonies and confession vis-à-vis their falsified documents and incitement of discrimination, violence and hatred.

– The appeal system of the National Election Committee (NEC) treats all complaints in a non-discriminatory manner. The NEC had ruled in favour of an appeal of opposition candidates to cancel a monetary fine and to reserve the right to vote and stand for election of 15 opposition candidates. 
– The current 9-member electoral body remains bipartisan and apolitical, with one CSO representative selected by consensus.  
Furthermore, the Ambassador also challenged the SR on a number of other topics below: 
– The SR’s grievance over a single party rule disregarded the fact that the power in Cambodia is constitutionally and democratically elected by the overwhelming majority of the population in 2018 despite a call for an electoral boycott by some groups wanting an undemocratic change.  
– Pluralism has been maintained, as evidenced through the creation of the “Supreme Consultative Council”, comprised of a total 16 elected and non-elected political parties, and the June communal elections with nine out of 17 contesting parties having won the communal council seats across the country. 
– The government remains committed to holding the bi-annual partnership forum with the CSOs. As such, a “Working Group to amend the Law on Associations and NGOs” has concluded an internal review of the 14 articles proposed for the amendment with the next consultative workshop with the CSOs to take place later this year.   
– The reach of critical media is extensive due to the vibrant presence of more than 2,000 media outlets. The people’s access to diverse sources of information are further intensified by our lowest mobile internet cost in the region. This attests to the country’s unwavering commitment to advancing freedom of expression and media.  
– The SR should have done more not to condone hate speech, xenophobia disinformation, and provocation to sedition under the guise of freedom of expression.  
– On the purported mass trials, the SR did not assess the details received with rigor and de-politicized lens. The fact is that the trials were connected to a return plot in November 2019, known as “event 9/11”, that a politician and his accomplices called for sedition and mobilised funds to raise illegal forces. The ring leader had been deplored by the SR’s predecessor in late 2019 in this Human Rights Council for his defamatory language and incitement to overthrow the people-elected government. 
– As underlined by the SR, Cambodia has taken drastic measures to strengthen national process to address the online scams, online gambling and human trafficking with significant results over the past months. With other mechanisms already in place, including the “Board of Command”, online complaint platforms, and telephone hotlines in local and foreign languages, the government remains resolute to timely prevention, suppression, rescue operation and prosecution in close collaboration with all stakeholders.  
– Judicial independence is well guaranteed in the Constitution. There is no shortage of instances that pro-ruling party supporters have also been punished by the same courts.   
The Permanent Representative concluded his remarks by underlining that human rights are rarely about perfection, rather a marathon and progress. To fair and moderate observers, Cambodia is viewed as a half full glass as we heard from the overwhelming majority of delegations in this Council. Finally, he reiterated Cambodia’s firm commitment, in cooperation with all partners, to promote and protect human rights within the rule of law, to advance sustainable development, to uphold our hard-won peace, and to pursue our irreversible democratic journey with pluralism, including the parliamentary elections next year, in a free, fair, orderly, peaceful and transparent manner.”

Source: Agency Kampuchea Press