Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association (UNSR), traveled to Cambodia last week on a three-day academic visit. The purpose of Mr. Kiai’s trip was to meet with civil society leaders, activists, and government officials to discuss the state of civil society and the freedoms of association and assembly in the country.
The visit was timely, given that the government has recently cracked down on post-election protests in Phnom Penh, leaving dozens of activists injured or imprisoned and at least four people dead. In January, the government issued a blanket ban on all public gatherings. In a meeting with the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the UNSR asked the government to promptly lift the ban.
“I raised concerns about the blanket ban that was extended in January, expressing the strong view that under international law, blanket bans are not recommended,” Mr. Kiai said of the visit. He also expressed worry over the use of force by authorities and urged the government to invite him for an official visit.
There have been increasing concerns about the freedom of association in the country since the government announced its plans to re-introduce a draft Law on Associations and Non-Governmental organizations last year. Recently, it was reported that the Council of Ministers approved the draft law. While the latest draft of the law is not yet available, a prior draft from 2011 would ban any activity by unregistered associations and NGOs. Local and international organizations are monitoring developments closely in an effort to obtain a copy of the latest draft law.
In addition to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Kiai discussed the assembly crackdown and the draft law in meetings with activist Buddhist monks (pictured), opposition leaders, civil society groups, and youth and labor activists. Some of the findings from the UNSR’s visit may be included in his forthcoming report to the UN Human Rights Council on the freedoms of assembly and association for vulnerable groups.
The Civic Space Initiative (CSI) provided support to the UNSR’s academic visit to Cambodia in collaboration with FORUM-ASIA. The CSI also works to ensure meaningful participation of civil society actors in the work of the UNSR. Members of the CSI are the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, and the World Movement for Democracy.
This Global Update is prepared by the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law through the Civic Space Initiative, implemented in partnership with ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, and the World Movement for Democracy.