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Gov’t pares UN rights recommendations

Protesters and CNRP supporters sleep at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park late last year during mass demonstrations
Protesters and CNRP supporters sleep at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park late last year during mass demonstrations. Kara Fox

Gov’t pares UN rights recommendations

Cambodia has drastically reduced the amount of human rights recommendations it will implement as part of the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review, saying they were overly repetitive.

Cambodia was in January given 205 human rights recommendations from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which Cambodia controversially reduced to 163 in June. It has now cut them to 48.

While Cambodia was criticised for deferring recommendations, which dealt with issues such as freedom of expression and the right to assembly, the government said it was now regrouping the recommendations due to their repetitiveness.

Mak Sambath, deputy head of the government’s human rights committee, said the recommendations used similar phrasing for identical points.

“For example … for judicial reform, 11 points are the same, so we made it into one,” he said.

Wan-Hea Lee, head of the OHCHR in Cambodia, said that while the recommendations were similar, “on some where we see repetition it means there is so much concern by so many countries”.

But Lee also noted that Cambodia had “responded well” to the recommendations.

The UN and the Cambodian government appeared to differ in their views of what constituted violations, however, with Sambath saying thorny issues like land disputes and protests had to be dealt with strictly according to Cambodian law.

“If people demonstrate and sleep for five days and five nights in a park, would governments in Europe let them do it?”

OHCHR head Lee later responded: “In fact, there are many countries that allow their protesters to camp out.”

Sambath maintained that Cambodia was “very, very serious” about implementing the 48 recommendations, urging the creation of a working group to ensure the recommendations are passed down to the appropriate ministries.

While UN and EU officials congratulated Cambodia for addressing international human rights statutes, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, was doubtful.

“In the human rights world, the Cambodian government is famous for signing up to many international rights treaties but then seriously implementing very few of the commitments it undertakes,” Robertson said.

“There is a yawning gap between what Phnom Penh promises and what it delivers, and the UPR process is no different.”

UN members go through UPR assessments every four years, and can either “accept” or “note” recommendations, which are nonbinding.

“One consequence of not agreeing to recommendations is that they will be reiterated in the future,” said UN Women country director Wenny Kusuma.

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