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A UN human rights monitor talks to a military police officer in front of a Phnom Penh garment factory
A UN human rights monitor talks to a military police officer in front of a Phnom Penh garment factory in January. STAFF

NGOs told to up advocacy

Civil society groups will have to amp up their advocacy in order to see Cambodia fulfil its human rights obligations and implement recommendations proposed by UN member states, according to a national consultation in the capital yesterday.

The groups are responsible for contributing to one of three reports that make up the basis of the Universal Periodic Review process, a regular peer review of each states’ rights record after which all nations offer constructive recommendations.

In Cambodia’s previous two review cycles, however, NGO involvement was extremely limited. The Kingdom has over 200 NGOs, but only some 50 filed summaries in October for the most recent scrutiny.

“Most NGOs aren’t paying attention to broader mechanisms like this. It isn’t sexy, it’s boring and technical,” said Ou Virak, chairman of the board at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.

In addition to providing an additional perspective to the government-prepared national report and the UN compilation, NGOs also play a critical role between review cycles when states are expected to implement recommendations they have accepted.

“I cannot stress enough the importance of the input of NGOs to this process,” said Wan Hea-Lea, a representative from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia.

“The difference between states where progress is made and states that lag behind with the same recommendations made again and again is often attributable to the role of the civil societies and their advocacy of implementation.”

In June, Cambodia accepted 163 of the 205 recommendations tendered after its second periodic review cycle in January. But getting Cambodia to go from considering to implementing the recommendations – which cover a broad array of topics including land rights, gender, freedom of expression and judicial reform – will require increased pressure from rights monitors.

“It might take a long time, but we must advocate to convince the government that it is in their interest to implement them,” said Catherine Phuong, a legal expert at the OHCHR. “If we [the civil societies] do not advocate for the UPR, no one else will.”

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