Cambodia | NGOs raise alarm, call for more international pressure


In the face of Government efforts to discredit the work of human rights NGOs and restrict their ability to operate, ISHR joins the call for a Human Rights Council resolution on Cambodia at the upcoming session. 

(Geneva) - International NGOs have lent their voices to a call by civil society and human rights defenders in Cambodia for more support from the international community, and accountability by their Government, in light of the ongoing challenges they face in conducting their work. 

Specifically, the letter asks the Council to strengthen their response by adopting a resolution that would call on the Cambodian government to: 

  • Condemn threats and attacks agains human rights defenders, and conduct transparent investigations when they do occur to ensure accountability
  • Release all prisoners of conscience and arbitrarily detained activists
  • Abide by its international obligations, especially by implementing recommendations of UN mechanisms and experts, and by repealing or amending those laws already out of line with those obligations and recommendations, including the Law on Associations on NGOs and the Trade Union Law
  • Establish and empower domestic mechanisms to assist in this regard, including a National Human Rights Institution in line with the Paris Principles and a time-bound action plan for implementing human rights recommendations
  • Guarantee full cooperation with the Special Rapporteur

The resolution should also call on the Special Rapporteur to identify benchmarks for progress and areas for reform, against which the Government will be measured the next time the resolution is negotiated (September 2017).

These issues are eminently relevant. Over the weekend, Cambodian press reported on the most recent of a long string of events 'squeezing civil society' since the last Council session, including the tragic killing of political commentator and well-known public figure Kem Ley in July. 

According to the article, the Cambodian Government spokesperson on 4 September dismissed the work of a human rights NGO to document violations of fundamental freedoms as the product of 'foreigners...pump[ing] money to topple the Government of Cambodia.'

Says ISHR programme manager and advocate Sarah M Brooks, 'This attitude is becoming increasingly common throughout Asia. It shows a dangerous disrespect for the work defenders do, and casts them as traitors. In fact, their work is often focused on the opposite - improving the lives of their fellow citizens.'

'This should set off alarm bells in the Council. We urge Council members to revisit the expectations placed on the Cambodian Government last year, and this time set a firm tone and clear benchmarks aimed at preventing future violations.'

That NGO, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), had documented violations of freedoms of expression and assembly associated with the 'Black Monday' campaign, as well as renewed judicial harassment of well-known land rights activists Tep Vanny and Bov Sophea for their participation in peaceful assemblies inspired by the politically-motivated detentions of activists in May 2016. 

In contrast to the Cambodian Government's unwillingness to consider critical perspectives in its management of political dissent, public assembly, and civic engagement, the OHCHR representative in the country concurred, quoted in the article as saying that the facts presented by CCHR 'correspond to [UN] observations', including the remarks of the UN Secretary-General's spokesperson upon hearing of Ley's death. 

Recent reports by Global Witness on the economic interests of Hun Sen's family, and in The Diplomat about the overt influence of China, reinforce more than ever the hypocrisy of pointing at 'foreign' forces threatening stability in the country.

'The irony is that the foreigners with real influence in Cambodia,' said Ms Brooks, 'are those invited there by the ruling elite. They 'advance economic development' at a cost of the rights and livelihoods of ordinary Cambodians; the role of the UN and its experts, then, should be to swing the needle back towards universal norms and the government's obligations.'

The full text of the joint civil society letter can also be found online.

For more information, please contact Sarah M Brooks, at

Photo: U.S. Navy


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