U.N. human rights envoy Surya Subedi on Wednesday wrapped up his appearance before the Human Rights Council in Geneva with a vow to continue assisting Cambodia in improving its judicial system as NGOs provided withering testimony of the situation of rights in the country.
A dialogue between NGOs and interested countries followed a presentation given by Mr. Subedi on Tuesday, during which he said that Cambodia is at a crossroads in terms of its human rights situation and that “those who are on the wrong side of history will be punished by history.”
“Many of you have expressed concern about the situation of the judicial system in Cambodia,” he said in response to comments made by U.N. rights council member states and rights groups.
“I agree with you, and that’s why I began my work in Cambodia,” he said.
China, one of Cambodia’s most generous benefactors, spoke in glowing terms about Cambodia’s human rights, economic and social development but said it believes that Cambodia should “choose its own models of human rights development while the international community provides technical assistance.”
The Chinese representative said other member states needed to respect Cambodia’s sovereign decisions.
This approach was also taken by the delegate from Vietnam, who congratulated Cambodia on making “concrete steps in reaching millennium development goals resolving land issues,” as well as the adoption of a widely criticized genocide denial law, which was passed only after members of the opposition were booted from parliament by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party earlier this year.
Laos, another Asean neighbor and one-party state like China and Vietnam, said there was no need for Mr. Subedi’s work.
“In our view, the Universal Periodic Review mechanism is the only appropriate forum to discuss human rights development in a country.”
In their responses to Mr. Subedi’s report on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, France and New Zealand were among the member states expressing their concern that the Khmer Rouge tribunal would not be able to complete its work as it struggles with a massive financial shortfall.
On Tuesday, at the opening ceremony of the General Assembly, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made his second public appeal of the year for member states to come forward and pledge money to the cash-strapped war crimes court.
“I would like to make a special appeal on behalf of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. The court has achieved important successes but there is a deep and chronic funding shortage and now its very survival is in question,” he said.
“Financial failure would be a tragedy for the people of Cambodia, who have waited so long for justice. I call on the international community to come forward with the financing to see all the cases through to their conclusion.”
The most scathing reviews of Cambodia’s development of human rights were left to rights groups, many of which accused the mainstream media of being under the thumb of Mr. Hun Sen’s ruling party and criticized the government for failing to implement Mr. Subedi’s recommendations over the course of his four-year-term as special rapporteur.
Nicolas Agostini, representing the International Federation for Human Rights, said: “The lack of an independent judiciary makes it easy to target critics, and impunity is widespread.”
A representative for Amnesty International also said judicial reform should be a top priority for Mr. Subedi if his mandate is renewed, which rights groups said should be for another two years.