Cambodia: UN expert concerned at escalating tensions and crackdown
GENEVA (8 November 2019) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia has expressed grave
concerns about the heightened political crackdown across the country, calling on the Government to respect the rights to
freedom of opinion, expression and assembly.
Since August, Rhona Smith said she had received credible information that at least 89 individuals have been charged with
‘plotting against the State’ and at least 52 people have been arrested in 20 provinces. This brings to over 200 the
number of cases of harassment, and judicial actions against CNRP members or supporters since 1 January 2019.
Sam Rainsy, the former leader of the outlawed opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has stated he will
return from self-imposed exile on 9 November. The Prime Minister announced Rainsy would be arrested on arrival in
Cambodia as he has been convicted in absentia and sentenced to jail.
“The rapid increase in numbers of arrests and serious charges filed against CNRP members is alarming,” said Smith, an
independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council. “Arrests based on exercising the rights to freedom of opinion
and expression, through political discourse and commenting on public affairs are not permitted. Cambodia must respect
its international obligations.”
Civil society organisations have also reported increased surveillance and monitoring by local authorities, as well as
limitations to their activities. “Civil society organisations should be able to work freely in Cambodia,” Smith said.
There have also been reports of a significant increase in the deployment of armed forces, including police and
gendarmes, assembled at border checkpoints and various villages, with military vehicles and personnel armed with
weapons. “I urge law enforcement officials to apply non-violent means before resorting to any use of force and firearms
and I call on all people to act peacefully and with restraint in words and actions,” Smith said.
“Saturday is Cambodia’s Independence Day, marking decolonisation of the country. It is also the eve of Bon Om Touk, the
Water Festival, marking the end of the rainy season. Both of these events are celebrated with public holidays and many
people travelling to Phnom Penh.” The independent expert notes that whilst there may be heightened security around this
time, “everyone has the right to safely enjoy these peaceful cultural celebrations free from fear”.
Smith also expressed concerns about the recent detention in nearby countries of some CNRP members attempting to travel
to Cambodia, and she urged States to encourage dialogue to resolve differences peacefully and respect freedom of
“I call on the Government and all parties to reduce escalations in tensions and seek dialogue in a peaceful environment
that allows for diverging political voices to be expressed, and to avoid any further restrictions on fundamental
freedoms that are necessary for the enjoyment of human rights by all,” she said.