PEN International, ARTICLE 19 and the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights attended Cambodia’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on 29 January 2014. During the review, the coalition was dismayed by the Cambodian delegation’s complete disregard for the current overt and violent crackdown on freedom of expression which began before the controversial election last year. Furthermore, the coalition was disappointed that all of the ASEAN representatives that spoke during the UPR pandered to regional allegiances, listing praises for Cambodia’s “improvement” of human rights, rather than raising the bar for respect for human rights in the region.
As the Cambodian Government today adopts the recommendations of the review, the coalition is urging the Government over the next four years to meaningfully engage and implement key recommendations on freedom of expression, association and assembly.
Just days before Cambodia was to have its human rights record reviewed at its UPR, violent crackdowns on initially peaceful demonstrators broke out in Phnom Penh. The use of live ammunition against protesters by security forces just weeks before the review left four dead. Referring to the recent violent repression of demonstrations, the UK delegation stated that “The use of live ammunition by security forces in early January cannot be justified.” This view was echoed by representatives from the United States, Sweden, Ireland and others.
The Cambodian government, which unusually was not headed by a senior minister, largely ignored the concerns voiced by the international community during the review.
'In so many ways, the Cambodian government made a mockery of the UPR process and the UNHRC, sending a blatant message to the international community that it couldn’t care less about us, let alone their very own people,' said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19. 'The culture of impunity that has long defined power in Cambodia was showcased these last couple of days, with the Cambodian delegation comfortably sat before the UN in Geneva, while scenes of bloodshed and abuse by the authorities against its own people were emerging from within the country.'
At the 2009 UPR, Cambodia accepted all 91 of the human rights recommendations given by other member states. As the Swiss representative noted, implementation of these recommendations by 2014 has been ‘patchy’.
'We condemn in the strongest terms the recent crackdown on protesters and the suppression of free speech in Cambodia,' said Ann Harrison, Director of the PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee. 'For too long, silence and self-censorship have been the only means of protection for journalists in the country. The protests over the last year demonstrate that the people of Cambodia are no longer prepared to stay silent in the face of repression and corruption. The international community has echoed these concerns at the UPR. Now it is up to the Cambodian government to finally implement these recommendations.'
The coalition also included leading housing rights activist Ms. Tep Vanny, who joined to personally urge different states to pressure Cambodia to respect free speech and human rights. Ms. Vanny was arrested just three days before she was to fly out to Geneva, as she was handing over a petition to the United States Embassy in Cambodia, calling for the release of the 23 individuals that are still detained after being arrested during the 2 January garment workers’ protest.
'It was clear to me that the government of Cambodia does not care about the UPR process because they lied about the real situation in the country. I am disgusted with the way they spoke, avoiding all truth and responsibility. They accused my community, victims of forcible eviction, for fabricating our problems for personal gain. I was shocked to hear these accusations being made in front of the international community. The authorities have continually lied to us, arrested and beaten us, but the pain is now stronger in seeing them come before the entire international community with the same lies. In that moment, I wanted to stand up and shout out the truth, but instead I had to suffer quietly as I watched on,' said Ms. Tep.
She continued to say, 'After all telling so many lies, I saw the Cambodian representatives looking happy and pleased, but I felt such deep pain and sadness. After seeing those happy faces, I am very worried that when they return to Cambodia, that they’ll treat us even worse than before. When I heard the other countries speak about our suffering, fear and needs, I felt encouraged. But that feeling was immediately killed as soon as I heard my own country speak.'
Ahead of the UPR, the coalition met with the American, Swiss, Czech and Indonesian permanent missions. The first three of which made explicit recommendations to Cambodia to respect free speech and freedom of assembly. However, Indonesia, along with the other ASEAN member states that spoke during the UPR, remained silent on the Cambodian government’s crackdown on free speech, and instead gave glowing reviews of its human rights efforts.
Just two hours before the start of Cambodia’s UPR, the coalition held a well-attended side event at the UN, where oppositional party leader, Sam Rainsy of the Cambodian National Rescue Party, was also present. During the side event, the coalition covered the situation of free speech in Cambodia since its last UPR review in 2009, noting a sharp turn from legal to violent threats in 2012 against human rights defenders, activists and journalists. The coalition also presented its recommendations on free speech, which was included in the shadow reportsubmitted to the UNHRC last year. During the side event, Ms. Tep spoke about her Boeung Kak lake community, which was forcibly evicted nearly seven years ago and is still suffering from human rights abuses by the authorities. Fellow housing rights activist, Yorm Bopha, who was arrested for 14 months on politically motivated charges, provided a video testimony that was also shown at the event.
Today, 30 January will provide its response to the recommendations that were given just two days before by various state permanent mission representatives. The Cambodian government cannot do as it had done in the last UPR session, which was to accept nearly all the recommendations but largely fail to make those recommendations a reality. As Ms. Tep aptly stated, “If I could have a word with the Cambodian delegation, I would tell them ‘Stop lying! Start implementing!’”
Notes to Editors
• For the shadow report submitted to the UNHRC by the coalition, please see: http://www.article19.org/resources.php/resource/37121/en/cambodia:-joint-submission-to-the-un-universal-periodic-review
• For media interviews with ARTICLE 19, please contact Ayden Peach, ARTICLE 19 Press Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org or call + 44 (207) 324 2500, or for more information about ARTICLE 19’s work in Cambodia, please contact: Judy Taing, ARTICLE 19 Programme Officer for Asia, at email@example.com or +1 (646) 725 1444.
• For more information about the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, please contact Ou Virak via telephone at +855 (0) 1240 4051 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or CCHR Consultant Juliette Rousselot via telephone at +855 (0) 1535 0620 or e-mail at email@example.com.
• For media interviews with PEN International, please contact Sahar Halaimzai, Sahar.firstname.lastname@example.org or Sarah Clarke, email@example.com or call + 44 (207) 7405 0338.