The head of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee met with representatives of the United Nation’s Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday to defend the Kingdom’s human rights track record during the Universal Periodic Review.
Cambodia is one of 14 countries being scrutinised during this UPR cycle. The Kingdom had its first review in 2009 and a second one in 2014. This year, 75 countries are reviewing a report submitted by the CHRC last year, a compilation of supporting documents and a summary prepared by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Keo Remy, president of CHRC and an attaché to Prime Minister Hun Sen, is leading a delegation of various ministry officials in Geneva.
During the meeting on Wednesday, Mr Remy cited the 20-page national report and defended the Kingdom’s human rights track record.
“In the Kingdom of Cambodia, journalists, human rights defenders, and civil society actors, as well as other individuals, are equal before the law, protected by the law and are responsible before the law altogether,” the report said. “In the Kingdom, citizens have full freedoms to access digital media, including Facebook.”
“Freedom of expression is not an offence, but using freedom of speech to commit crimes, such as exaggeration and false allegation, is prohibited,” it added.
The meeting lasted nearly three hours and Mr Remy addressed allegations of rights violations levelled by the international community, including the shutdown of The Cambodia Daily, Radio Free Asia and Voice of America.
He noted that the closures were self-initiated and that “the two radio stations are free to reopen their offices in Cambodia”.
In his concluding remarks, Mr Remy said the government relies on the contribution of all to ensure democracy and human rights.
“Freedom of expression is not the same as freedom to insult, to lie and spread fake information, or to defame or discredit individuals or institutions,” the report said. “Statements inciting hatred and xenophobia are prohibited.”
“All rights, including the right to development, shall be indivisible and human rights issues must be addressed within the global context through a constructive, non-confrontational and non-politicised dialogue-based approach,” the report added.
Yu Jianhua, head of the Chinese mission to the UN office in Geneva, said he welcomes Cambodia’s third UPR.
“We firmly support Cambodia on embarking to push for rural development. We provide technical human rights assistance to Cambodia,” Mr Yu said. “I hope the international community will take Cambodia’s condition into account and respect the will of the Kingdom’s people and government.”
“We would like to forward two recommendations. One is to continue maintaining social stability and promoting sustainable economic and social development, so living standards can improve and poverty be reduced,” he added. “The second is to continue developing education so the right to an education can be guaranteed. We wish Cambodia great success.”
Other country representatives did not echo China’s optimism in how the Cambodian government has handled human rights in the Kingdom.
French representative François Gave acknowledged the Kingdom’s efforts in reducing poverty, improving public health and social protection, but noted the main issue remains Cambodia’s political situation.
“We have expressed concerns regarding restrictive measures adopted against civil political rights […] we have noted positive steps the government has taken to reopen political space,” Mr Gave said. “But we recommend Cambodia take necessary steps to allow members of the opposition party to participate in politics.”
Japan’s Ken Okaniwa also said Cambodia has to focus on improving political inclusion. Mr Ken said the Kingdom must also reform its judicial system.
“Cambodia has to promote dialogue, freedom and democratic rights in order to unite people through development,” Mr Ken said. “Japan welcomes a recent MoU with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Phnom Penh.”
The CHRC yesterday said in a statement the Cambodian delegation will return to Cambodia and hold a press conference at 8.45pm today.
“Cambodia is facing problems and we will solve this in order to improve the human rights situation in Cambodia,” the statement said. “We will respond to criticisms and explain why these criticisms are not reflective of what is actually going on in the Kingdom.”