Nearly a month after Cambodia’s second universal periodic review (UPR) of its human rights situation at the U.N. in Geneva, rights groups met in Phnom Penh on Thursday to discuss how they can work with the government to ensure that the 163 recommendations it accepted are implemented over the next four years.
Cambodia initially accepted 171 of the 205 recommendations put to it in January, but lowered that number in June. It also failed to fully implement the 91 recommendations it agreed to in 2009.
“Without concerted and meaningful follow-up to the recommendations of the UPR as well as those by the treaty bodies and other human rights mechanisms, all the efforts of the government, civil society organizations, the international community and other participating stakeholders will be in vain,” Wan Hea-Lee, representative of the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, told participants on Thursday.
Mak Sambath, vice-chair of the government’s Human Rights Committee, said he appreciated the input from civil society groups, but pointed out that it is difficult for the government to implement the preponderance of recommendations.
“How can we manage to be questioned for three hours if we only get half an hour to respond?” he asked.
The government was roundly criticized last month by rights groups for failing to ensure that all the accepted recommendations were implemented within an allotted four-year period, calling into question the effectiveness of the UPR mechanism.
Nicolas Agostini, the U.N. delegate for the International Federation for Human Rights, said that the UPR process is still important, because it pushes countries to honor international treaties and obligations.
“Awareness-raising is important; however, at a time when Cambodia risks plunging back into political violence, it is not in itself sufficient,” he said via email.
He added civil society should “constantly” remind the government of its human rights obligations, with a focus on “lifting the ban on public assemblies and upholding citizens’ and political opponents’ right to peaceful protest.”