United Nations Special Rapporteur urges Cambodia for Human Rights reforms
Southeast Asia & Pacific Team
Global Human Rights Defense
Human rights situation in Cambodia
Prior to the 2022 national elections, former Prime-minister Hun Sen used the COVID-19 pandemic as a means to extend authoritarian control over Cambodia. Hun Sen was Prime-minister of Cambodia from 1985 to 2023, and he was the leader of a one-party ruled parliament, since its one opposing party was dissolved in 2018 following a court ruling. Cambodia has a long history of an over-politicized legal system. Hun Sen’s son, Hun Manet is the current Prime-minister of Cambodia.
Many reports suggest that Cambodia has subjugated its citizens to arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment. Furthermore, due to Draconian laws and extrajudicial killings, the Cambodian government is accused of violating human rights and perpetuating an autocratic rule, and a sentiment of oppression and unfairness before the system. Cambodia currently holds more than 50 political prisoners.
Reports show that there is a decline in respect for human rights in Cambodia, in particular in relation to political opponents of the government and activists being arrested and prosecuted at an alarming rate. Testimonies state that there have been several attacks against the families of activists and supporters of the now defunct opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party. The lack of willingness from the cabinet of the new Prime-minister, Hun Manet to investigate and prosecute the victims of these attacks demonstrates a certain uninterest in improving respect for human rights in Cambodia.
Opinion of UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Cambodia
United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Cambodia, Vitit Muntarbhorn (appointed in March of 2021) voices his concerns regarding the hereditary succession of power in Cambodia. Stating that the ascension of Hun Sen’s son to power delegitimizes democratic elections, causing the populus to be apprehensive about the prospect of respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of international law.
Mr. Muntarbhorn further stated that “A key challenge for implementing human rights benchmarks lies in the intergenerational power shift in the country, which is intertwined with the political and electoral processes and coupled with the restricted civic-political space.”
In the 2022 Human Rights Council report on the “Role and achievements of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in assisting the Government and people of Cambodia in the promotion and protection of human rights,” the Secretary-General called for the end of arbitrary arrests, the guarantee of fair trial rights, and to provide public information on the steps being taken to end human trafficking.
Additionally, Mr. Muntarbhorn states that he received reports of multiple attacks, unjustified arrests and prosecution of journalists, human rights defenders, political opponents and other critics of the current hereditary system. The same reports state that those who were unceremoniously arrested for criticizing the current government remain in custody, Mr. Muntarbhorn calls for their release for the charges against them to be dropped.
The Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council and is not contracted, paid or part of the UN Staff.
Sources and further readings:
- UNCHR ‘Role and achievements of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in assisting the Government and people of Cambodia in the promotion and protection of human rights’ (17 August 2022) A/HRC/51/63.
- UN News, ‘UN rights expert urges for key reforms in Cambodia’ (9 October 2023) https://news.un.org/en/story/2023/10/1142087 accessed 10 October 2023
- UNCHR ‘Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia’ ohchr.org (15 May 2023) https://www.ohchr.org/en/special-procedures/sr-cambodia accessed 10 October 2023.
- Human Rights Watch, ‘Political Prisoners in Cambodia’ (29 March 2022) https://www.hrw.org/video-photos/interactive/political-prisoners-cambodia accessed 10 October 2023.
- Human Rights Watch, ‘Cambodia: Dissident, Wife Brutally Assaulted Incident Tests New Government’s Willingness to Address Impunity’ (19 September 2023) https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/09/19/cambodia-dissident-wife-brutally-assaulted accessed 10 October 2023.