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Cambodia: backsliding on human rights jeopardizes free and fair elections

HRW Statement - Item 10 Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia - HRC49

NagaWorld Casino workers protest outside the National Assembly building after several union members were arrested, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, January 5, 2022. © 2022 REUTERS/Cindy Liu

Ahead of the commune elections in June and next year’s national elections, Cambodia’s human rights situation has reached a crisis, with the government carrying out an intensified crackdown on the political opposition, independent media, and civil society under the guise of Covid-19 measures.

Cambodian authorities have undermined peaceful activities by activists, restricted reporting by independent media, criminalized free speech, and enforced a de facto ban on peaceful assembly. In the past two years, the authorities pursued politically motivated prosecutions against more than 150 opposition political party leaders and members, some of whom fled the country fearing reprisals. The government is also continuing a bogus treason prosecution against Kem Sokha, the co-leader of the dissolved main opposition party, and is harassing other opposition parties aiming to run in the upcoming elections.

The authorities have also stepped-up online surveillance by way of both new and existing laws that threaten free expression and the right to privacy. Once operational, the currently delayed National Internet Gateway will enable the government to monitor all internet traffic and disconnect users’ internet connections on arbitrary grounds.

At this 49th Council session and in bilateral engagements, it is crucial that UN member states send a clear message to Cambodia that its human rights backsliding has not gone unnoticed and is jeopardizing any possibility of free and fair elections.

Mr. Special Rapporteur, what tools could you suggest to assist states to better assess Cambodia’s progress, or lack thereof, in protecting human rights, including in the lead-up to elections?

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