GENEVA, SWITZERLAND — UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, expressed deep concern over the curtailing of civil liberties in Cambodia as it prepares for general elections next month.
Türk urged on Friday (16 Jun) for the Cambodian government to take immediate steps to ensure and protect a conducive environment for free and fair elections.
“Ahead of the election, there must be an open and pluralistic environment that guarantees the rights to freedom of expression and opinion, and freedom of assembly and association. These elements lie at the core of open and free societies as envisaged by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Türk said.
Earlier this year, Cambodia’s National Election Commission (NEC) disqualified the Candlelight Party (CLP) and the Khmer United Great Nation Party from participating in the upcoming elections.
The NEC has also handed down long prison sentences to various opposition figures. These actions have stirred concerns as under international law, all citizens should have an equal right to stand for election, subject to objective, reasonable, and non-discriminatory restrictions.
The Vice-President of the Candlelight Party, Son Chhay, was also levied with heavy fines. He was ordered to pay over USD 1 million in fines and compensation to the NEC and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party for defamation.
Moreover, the Prime Minister announced plans this week to amend the election law, prohibiting any individual boycotting the vote or encouraging others to do so from running in future elections.
Critics say this proposed amendment could significantly limit freedom of expression and breach the constitutional right of citizens to stand for election, as recognized by international human rights conventions.
Human rights defenders, trade unionists, and political activists in Cambodia are reportedly facing legal sanctions for exercising their internationally protected rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, or association, including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Cambodia in 1992.
Türk pointed out the role of the Paris Peace Agreement and international human rights treaties as the guarantors of peace, prosperity, and a better future for Cambodia.
“I urge Cambodia’s leadership to change course now to enable a vibrant civil society, a space for open debate and respect for human rights,” Türk concluded.