Rhona Smith, the U.N.’s new special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, on Tuesday addressed the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva for the first time, telling the body that she planned to focus on marginalized people in the country.
Ms. Smith’s appearance at the HRC comes less than a week after she concluded a nine-day trip to Cambodia—her first since being approved as Surya Subedi’s successor in March—during which she met with government officials, opposition politicians and human rights defenders.
“In addition to monitoring and building on the work on my predecessors, I believe my contribution could be to focus on the situation of specific marginalized groups,” Ms. Smith said. “For example, those victims of race and ethnic discrimination, indigenous peoples, women, children and persons of disabilities.”
Ms. Smith said that land-titling and other efforts to address land rights issues were “beginning to see a degree of success.”
“However, much remains to be addressed, particularly for the most marginalized communities such as indigenous people,” she added.
Ms. Smith also drew attention to concerns expressed by local and international NGOs that the freedoms of assembly, association and expression were being restricted as the country neared commune elections in 2017 and a national election in 2018.
“This is a matter of concern given that the ability of all persons to obtain redress and contribute to finding solutions to land, labor and other disputes so often depends on their ability to peacefully exercise such freedoms,” the special rapporteur said.
In response to Ms. Smith’s speech, the permanent representative of Cambodia to the U.N. office at Geneva, Ney Samol, told the HRC that the Cambodian government was committed to strengthening the rule of law and had made progress in addressing land issues.
“There is no room for forced evictions in Cambodian policy,” Mr. Samol said, adding that the Cambodian government “temporarily recognizes the people’s right to illegal land occupation until they find a legal place of residence.”