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Statement to the UN Human Rights Council on Cambodia

Human Rights Watch - September 28, 2011

Oral Statement during the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia

Madam President, Human Rights Watch would like to welcome the report of the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia. We share many of the Special Rapporteur's concerns, particularly on the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. Prime Minister Hun Sen's government has used arbitrary arrests, grossly unfair trials, and the threat of abusive new laws to undermine the basic rights of dissidents, workers and farmers engaged in peaceful protest, human rights advocates, and opposition party members.

Human Rights Watch echoes the Special Rapporteur's concerns about the draft law on associations and NGOs, which is currently under consideration by Cambodia's Council of Ministers. This law would allow the Royal Government of Cambodia to intimidate and shut down without a fair process local, national, and foreign NGOs, associations, and informal groups that criticize the government or government officials. In the year marking the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Paris Peace Agreements that led to the end of Cambodia's civil war and launched the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), the draft law on NGOs threatens one of UNTAC's most enduring legacies: the creation of a thriving NGO community and the blossoming of voluntary, community-based civic groups, informal associations, and grassroots networks.

While governments have a legitimate regulatory interest in the activities of non-profit entities, such regulations should not be used as a cover to undermine the rights of all persons to freedom of association, expression, and assembly, which are protected under Cambodia's constitution and international treaties to which Cambodia is a party. We share the Special Rapporteur's concern that the provisions contained in the third draft of the NGO law will hamper the legitimate work of NGOs in the promotion of human rights.

Given Cambodia's political and governance context, which is plagued by endemic corruption, the politically motivated application of laws and regulations, and an absence of judicial independence, the adoption of the NGO law is likely to result in increased government repression.

The Special Rapporteur's call for an open, mutually respectful, and constructive dialogue between the Cambodian government and NGOs to promote the development of civil society in Cambodia should be embraced by the government. We also call on the Human Rights Council to urge the government of Cambodia to promote recognition that civil society which provides essential social services, promotes the rule of law, and defends the rights of everyone in Cambodia is fundamental to Cambodia's development and well-being as a nation.

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