A coalition of human rights groups will urge the international community to address the increasingly severe crackdown on free speech in Cambodia, tomorrow at the United Nations in Geneva. The human rights situation in the country has deteriorated markedly since 2009, when it last underwent the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the process by which all UN Member States are assessed on a rolling basis. The coalition is particularly concerned about the increasingly aggressive approach the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) has taken in order to silence activists, human rights defenders and journalists who express criticism.
The coalition says that people in Cambodia are regularly targeted, harassed and persecuted for speaking out against oppressive government policies. A ban on peaceful protests, the use of excessive force and violence by security agents against demonstrators and a series of politically motivated arrests and prosecutions violate fundamental universal human rights and contravene the Cambodian constitution.
So far this month, at least four people have been killed and dozens injured as a result of the excessive use of force by the authorities in Cambodia. In addition, more than 34 people have been arrested, and at least 23 of them, including human rights defenders, are still detained after having been arrested during protests.
The Cambodian Center for Human Rights, PEN International, ARTICLE 19 and the International Publishers Association will be monitoring and campaigning in Geneva during Cambodia’s review on 28 January, representing the coalition, which also include Cambodian PEN, the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance.
“Following last year’s elections, it is clear that the Cambodian people are no longer willing to remain quiet. People in the tens of thousands are now risking their lives to speak out and demand the society they want. The government’s modus operandi of squashing dissent can no longer continue. It’s time to respect free speech and human rights. That’s the message that the international community must now stand behind,” said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.
In June 2013, the coalition submitted a shadow report to the UNHRC detailing violations by the RCG on free speech with recommendations to the RGC.
The coalition will also host an event in Geneva to coincide with the UPR process, at which, the prominent housing rights activist Ms. TEP Vanny will be a guest speaker. Ms. Vanny was arrested on Tuesday 20 January – along with ten other activists – outside the US Embassy in Phnom Penh (Cambodia), where she was handing over a petition calling for the release of 23 demonstrators detained earlier this month following a garment wage protest. The event will be on 28 January, Room XXIV at the Palais des Nations, from 12.30-14.30.
Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee, noted “The increasing suppression of Cambodian voices of protest and dissent demonstrates a worrying deterioration of freedom of expression in the country. Tuesday’s human rights review of the country comes at a critical moment. The UN Human Rights Council must pressure the Cambodian Government to uphold the human rights of its citizens.”
The recommendations in the shadow report include: decriminalising defamation; tackling systemic impunity in Cambodia; cease harassment of non-governmental organisation workers; promoting internet freedom; and allow peaceful protest by respecting the rights to freedom of association and assembly. The submission also calls for media freedom, establishing systems that safeguard against government influence and that is accessible by all political parties, which is vital to ensure free and fair elections.
“The time has come for the RGC to be confronted to its lack of progress with regards to human rights. During this Universal Periodic Review, the international community must address the systematic abuses of fundamental rights occurring throughout the country and the extensive system of impunity which has become characteristic of Cambodia. That being said, while the UPR will shed light on the RGC’s failures in relation to human rights, in order to ensure it becomes an effective review mechanism, the international community must follow up on its recommendations,” said Ou Virak, President of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.