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(Geneva) – United Nations member countries should press the Cambodian government on its failure to keep previous commitments and demand that it fulfill new rights pledges. On January 28, 2014, Cambodia will appear before the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva.

“Hun Sen’s government violates human rights on a daily basis by violently preventing the opposition, trade unions, activists and others from gathering to demand political change,” said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch.  “Countries at the Human Rights Council should condemn this brutal crackdown and insist the Cambodian government engage in serious reforms.”

In the most recent example of government repression, armed security force personnel and organized plainclothes vigilantes on January 26 enforced a government order to prevent a gathering of trade unionists at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh. Security force personnel and vigilantes with firearms and brass-knuckles fired slingshots, threw rocks, and struck with truncheons to disperse protesters and others, including opposition party figures, human rights observers, and journalists. Several people were injured, including protesters, some assailants and alleged government intelligence agents.

Also on January 26, army and gendarme troops accompanied by activists from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party disrupted an attempted opposition party gathering in the provincial capital of Kampong Cham, barricading an opposition party leader in his hotel and forcing cancellation of the event. The government has meanwhile warned the owner of Cambodia’s best-known independent radio station against going ahead with his plans to hold a public gathering in Phnom Penh.

The Geneva meeting is part of the council’s regular review of Cambodia’s human rights record.  At the session, during which the Cambodian government is represented, all UN member countries can recommend ways to improve the human rights situation there. The UPR is a process all UN members undergo every four years to assess each country’s human rights situation.

In a submission to the Council for the UPR process covering events in Cambodia through the end of 2013, Human Rights Watch found that the human rights situation in the country had worsened significantly since its last review in 2009.

Cambodia, unlike many other governments, is not sending high-level representation to its review suggesting that it does not take the process seriously, Human Rights Watch said. According to media reports, its delegation will be led by the deputy chairman of the government-controlled Cambodian Human Rights Committee, which has since its inception served as a mouthpiece for Hun Sen and the Cambodian government. The committee is not recognized by the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, the independent body that monitors adherence to the Paris Principles on national human rights institutions, which require, among other things, that such bodies be independent.  

“The Cambodian government can’t even be bothered to send a senior official to the UN’s review of its human rights record,” de Rivero said. “This shows Hun Sen’s contempt not just for the UN process, but for the rights of Cambodia’s people. UN member countries should put the government on notice that it will not tolerate continued backsliding.” 

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