UN Human Rights Council falls short of action needed on Cambodia’s human rights crisis

Resolution on Cambodia adopted at the 48th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council has renewed the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, but the resolution adopted by the Council today does not reflect nor adequately address the escalating political and human rights crisis in the country.

With Cambodia’s main opposition party dissolved in 2017 and its politicians barred from politics, the fragile veneer of democracy engendered by the Paris Peace Accords has disintegrated, leaving the country a de facto one-party state. 

The resolution mandates one additional update by the Special Rapporteur to the Council in March 2022, which will allow for further scrutiny of the country ahead of the communal election, set for June 2022. A second additional update, set for March 2023 ahead of the national elections in June that same year, was removed from the draft resolution shortly before its adoption.

‘It is disappointing that the resolution does not reach the bare minimum needed to address the ongoing deterioration of human rights in Cambodia,’ said Cornelius Hanung, Asia Advocacy Officer for CIVICUS. ‘The human rights situation in the country has drastically deteriorated since the last time this resolution was negotiated in 2019, and conditions for free and fair elections are fundamentally and conspicuously absent. There is no sign of domestic or international political will to address this.’

Calls from civil society for enhanced monitoring and reporting by the High Commissioner were not considered.

‘Free and fair elections depend not only on the ability of political parties to participate, but also on press freedom, the ability to dissent without fear of harassment and reprisals, and on civil society being able to organize and assemble,’ said Cornelius Hanung. ‘But we consistently see repressive laws and judicial harassment used in Cambodia to restrict civic freedoms, undermine and weaken civil society, and criminalize individuals for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of peaceful assembly.’

Cambodia has consistently cited its constructive engagement with the Human Rights Council to pre-empt stronger action, such as additional monitoring, to address its human rights crisis. 

‘Attacks against the Special Rapporteur and his mandate by Cambodia during the Interactive Dialogue to his report represented just the latest example of ‘constructive engagement,’ which to date has been minimal at best and weaponized by Cambodia at worst,’ said Cornelius Hanung. ‘Human rights defenders and those calling for democratic reform on the ground can no longer afford for the Council to seek consensus resolutions at the expense of their protection.’

The adoption of the resolution under the Council’s technical cooperation and capacity-building Item ensures that Cambodia stays on the Council’s agenda for a further two years. CIVICUS maintains its call for the Council to establish a robust monitoring mechanism to adequately assess and address the human rights crisis and further election-related violations.

Civic space in Cambodia is rated 'repressed' by the CIVICUS Monitor.