Cambodia: Human Rights Council resolution should address anti-democratic slide


The UN Human Rights Council should take a powerful and principled stand in support of human rights in Cambodia, without which there is a real risk that the country will continue down its current anti-democratic slide, ISHR said today.

(Geneva) – The UN Human Rights Council should take a powerful and principled stand in support of human rights in Cambodia, without which there is a real risk that the country will continue down its current anti-democratic slide, ISHR said today.

While the current draft text of a resolution on Cambodia being negotiated within the Council renews the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and indicates some areas for human rights concern, it fails to fully and faithfully reflect the situation on the ground or provide the necessary levers for the international community and vibrant Cambodian civil society to push for change.

‘Assistance, monitoring and reporting from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on the one hand, and strong political pressure from key Council actors on the other, will be needed to ensure progress,’ said Sarah M. Brooks, ISHR focal point on Asia. ‘The draft resolution gets us part of the way there, and recognises the critical and mutually reinforcing roles of the Rapporteur and the OHCHR country office. But more could and should be done at the country level to ensure protections for human rights defenders’.

Draft resolution does not adequately address issues of shrinking civil society space

As the Special Rapporteur said in her report to the Council, ‘The space for the peaceful exercise of the freedoms of assembly, association and expression is shrinking as the country moves towards the 2017 commune elections and the 2018 National Assembly elections’. This reinforces serious concerns raised by ISHR and a number of other organisations in a joint letter sent to Member States in August. Unfortunately, the tabled resolution makes only reference to the restrictive Law on Associations and NGOs (the so-called LANGO), and does not go so far as to encourage much-needed review and revision of the law to ensure its compliance with Cambodia’s international human rights obligations.

Interventions by the EU and its member States during the Council's dialogue with the Special Rapporteur, including IrelandFrance and the UK, drew attention to ongoing concerns about the ‘clear threat to civil society space’ posed by the LANGO, and called for attention to persistent issues of impunity, land disputes, and sexual and gender-based violence. The US drew particular attention to limits on freedom of expression in the context of the cyber-crimes law. The need to protect civil society space and review the LANGO has been pushed strongly by the EU and US throughout negotiations on the draft text. Among Western European and Other Group States, Australia has distinguished itself by seeking to weaken or exclude language calling for the repeal or review of LANGO to ensure compatibility with international human rights law and in its public remarks chose merely to highlight bilateral technical assistance in the area of elections. Additional interventions by ASEAN States and China downplayed the role of civil society and emphasised instead the need for the Special Rapporteur to strictly follow her mandate and to fully consult and communicate with the government. 

ISHR welcomes the Rapporteur’s recognition of the cross-cutting and pervasive nature of discrimination in the context of Cambodia, and its impact on marginalised groups, including women, indigenous persons, and other vulnerable groups, and those who hold dissenting political opinions.

‘Framing priorities in terms of discrimination can be a very strategic approach. But it is important that it not be used to justify limiting the constructive engagement of the mandate holder to “cooperative” issues that may be seen as less “sensitive”,’ said Ms Brooks. ‘Barriers to access resulting from discrimination impact not only economic, social and cultural rights, including socio-economic development and education, but also civil and political rights’.

Cambodian civil sociey calls for international solidarity and support

The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights publicly called on the Special Rapporteur to ‘pinpoint’ key cases of concern with respect to human rights and to encourage the Government of Cambodia to implement accepted UPR recommendations, and other recommendations of UN experts. The support for these and other groups is critical, said Nicolas Agostini of FIDH. ‘Cambodian human rights defenders need international support. The Special Rapporteur should communicate publicly about human rights issues, on her own and in conjunction with other mandate holders, and use her position to protect them and prevent a further deterioration of their situation.' Mr Agostini said 

Full exercise of the mandate, and ongoing support for civil society and human rights defenders by all stakeholders, will be essential moving forward. Otherwise, Cambodia may linger at the bottom of the Council’s priority list while Cambodian civil society faces ever-mounting threats.

Contact: Sarah M Brooks, ISHR, on



  • Asia
  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • Human rights defenders
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • Cambodia