The U.N. human rights envoy to Cambodia, Surya Subedi, on Tuesday presented a report to the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva and expressed his grave concern about post-election violence and the failure of the government and National Election Committee to properly investigate widespread electoral fraud.
Mr. Subedi’s report, which was made public in August, was written and sent to the HRC before the July 28 national election, which resulted in political deadlock over a disputed outcome that resulted in the opposition CNRP boycotting the opening of the National Assembly on Monday.
Based on a mission in December 2012 and another in May of this year, Mr. Subedi’s report summarized that the government was failing to guarantee Constitutional liberties and had become increasingly intolerant to constructive criticism.
Speaking to the council in Geneva, Mr. Subedi made some verbal additions to his written observations and noted that while the election was largely peaceful, his “optimism was however dampened by allegations of massive electoral irregularities and the failure of the government and the National Election Committee to facilitate prompt, impartial, transparent, credible and thorough investigation of the alleged irregularities.”
He noted that the “fervent hope of many Cambodians” for peace was shattered when security forces clashed with and killed an innocent bystander on September 15 following a day of protest in Phnom Penh.
Mr. Subedi added: “I am gravely concerned by what appears to have been indiscriminate and excessive use of force against protesters in this instance. I am particularly concerned by the reports that the security force personnel had fired live ammunition and in some instances into the crowd, and that several individuals, including teenagers, were beaten severely with truncheons.”
He said he was also concerned by the “forcible removal” of Prince Sisowath Thomico from Wat Phnom during a peaceful night vigil, where the Prince was staging a hunger strike, and “alarmed” by an attack, coordinated with the police, on a group of anti-eviction activists also staging a hunger strike and journalists present at the same site on Sunday night.
“In urging the authorities, in the strongest possible terms, to refrain from further use of violence, I underscore that peaceful assembly is a human right, subject only to restrictions which are strictly necessary in a democratic society,” Mr. Subedi told the council.
“Having seen the authorities, who exercised considerable restraint for weeks, again resorting to old tactics that violate basic civil rights in the past few days, I believe it is clear that Cambodia today stands at a crossroads,” he said, adding that he wishes to continue his mandate, which began on March 2009 and came after his predecessors, Kenyan and Austrian law professors Yash Ghai and Peter Leuprecht resigned after strong and persistent personal attacks were made against them by Mr. Hun Sen and his government.
A Japanese delegate at the council said Tuesday that it has drafted a resolution calling for Mr. Subedi’s mandate to monitor human rights in Cambodia to be renewed—a call that was also echoed by the delegate for Australia.
In response, Sun Suon, Cambodia’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, said a renewal is being considered. He also played down the violent crackdowns on peaceful protesters over the past two weeks, insisting that the pre- and post-election climate had been largely peaceful.
“The national and international observers from many countries have extended their welcome to the conduct of the election,” he said, adding that other countries had “called on the parties involved to resolve the shortcomings which have been addressed according to the country’s Constitution.”
Mr. Suon added: “We also regret that there were a few unfortunate incidents which have occurred, in particular, at the later stage.”
He said the government is considering a renewal of Mr. Subedi’s mandate that, if granted, would show Cambodia’s willingness to continue its dialogue with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Mr. Subedi’s appearance before the council continues today, when a statement by the International Federation for Human Rights and local NGOs Licadho and Adhoc will be presented, detailing their concerns “about the ongoing, serious and systematic violations of land and housing rights; the intimidation and harassment of Cambodian human rights defenders; and the stifling of independent voices in the country through restrictions to the rights to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association.”