Asia: UN expert urges Cambodia to strengthen protection of women and indigenous peoples’ rights

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith, called on the Cambodian authorities to further strengthen the protection of women and indigenous peoples’ rights in the country.

Geneva, 1st April 2016.-“Of great concern to me is the prevalence of violence against women, which continues to present itself as a pervasive human rights violation in Cambodia and women who have suffered sexual and gender-based violence encounter barriers when perpetrators should be brought swiftly to justice,” Ms. Smith said at the end of her second official visit* to Cambodia.

The expert called for a revision of the current Law on Prevention of Domestic Violence and Victims Protection to ensure that the response to domestic violence in Cambodia conforms to international standards, and urged the Government to strengthen judicial mechanisms and ensure fair prosecution of alleged perpetrators.

She also drew attention to an alarming trend in traditional and social media to report about cases of violence against women and girls without due respect for the human dignity or the rights of the victims, and she asked the members of the press to consider carefully the rights of the victims.

Ms. Smith further looked at the challenging situations of women in the garment industry and all other female workers, including migrants, who are not fully protected in law. She warned that domestic workers may find themselves in abusive workplaces and/or forced labour situations.

The Special Rapporteur welcomed the Government’s efforts to protect and preserve the traditional cultures of indigenous peoples while continuing to develop the country. “This is one of the key current challenges in Cambodia, in particular in the context of granting Economic Land Concessions or implementation of development projects such as Hydropower dam,” she said.

Looking at the issue of resettlement often entailed by these projects, she called for additional efforts and extended time in the consultation processes with indigenous peoples to ensure full engagement of those affected, respect for cultures and traditions, and free, prior and informed consent. “Relocation plans of indigenous communities should also consider preservation of sacred forests, burial sites and usufructory practices,” she noted.

Ms. Smith reiterated her concern that Cambodia is close to a dangerous tipping point, referring to past instances of renewed threats, judicial proceedings and even physical beatings of members of the opposition.

She called on elected leaders to fulfil their “responsibility to respect for dignity and all human rights not least the right of privacy” and stressed the importance that all laws must be applied equally and fairly to all political parties and their members to ensure protection of the democratic space in the run up the 2017 and 2018 elections.

“It is important that consideration is given to acceptable, accessible registration opportunities for all eligible Cambodians, not least migrant workers -within Cambodia and overseas- as well as detainees,” the expert said noting that the preparation for the electoral process has started with the issuance of new ID cards that will be used for the registration of all those eligible to vote.

During her ten-day visit, the Special Rapporteur met in Phnom Penh with numerous senior officials, members of the UN system, the diplomatic community and representatives of a broad range of civil society actors and other stakeholders.

In addition, she undertook a field visit to Stung Treng and Preah Vihear provinces, where she had meetings with provincial authorities, local civil society representatives, members of indigenous and forestry communities as well as private sector actors when she visited some development projects.

Ms. Smith will present her next report to the Human Rights Council in September 2016.

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