Cambodians are facing a human rights crisis, with all the hard-fought freedoms gained in the past decades rapidly disappearing. Human Rights Watch agrees with the UN Special Rapporteur’s analysis that, within her one-year reporting period, the Cambodian government has failed to take effective actions to reverse its repressive crackdown on critical and independent voices in Cambodia, which has significantly restricted Cambodians’ civil and political rights.
Following the sham elections in July 2018 in which the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Committee (CNRP) was dissolved by the government-controlled Supreme Court, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party under Prime Minister Hun Sen took all 125 seats in parliament – effectively turning Cambodia into a one-party state. Key CNRP figures are detained – such as party leader Kem Sokha, who is under de facto house arrest – or in exile fearing arrest. Currently 111 former senior CNRP politicians remain banned from politics. In 2019 another 147 former CNRP members have been summoned to court or police stations on spurious charges as a form of harassment.
Local human rights groups and independent trade unions face unrelenting government harassment. The government has shuttered almost all independent media outlets. Journalists reporting for independent media are under surveillance or subject to arbitrary prosecutions. Repressive laws – including amendments to the Law on Political Parties, the penal code introducing a lese majeste clause, the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations, and the Law on Trade Unions – have severely restricted the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. After the 1993 United Nations Transitional Authority (UNTAC) elections, all political prisoners were freed, but in Hun Sen’s 34th year as prime minister, Cambodia now has over 30 political prisoners. Council action is crucial to prevent this situation from getting even worse.
During this 42nd Council session it is imperative that a resolution renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur reflects the gravity of the situation in Cambodia. The weak 2017 resolution should be strengthened to require additional monitoring and reporting by the High Commissioner. This would send a clear signal of international concern and allow a comprehensive and timely assessment of the human rights situation and corresponding actionable benchmarks for the government to meet in order to comply with its international obligations.