UN rights office alarmed by Cambodia crackdown

The United Nations’ human rights office Tuesday said it was alarmed by Cambodia’s crackdown on protests against strongman premier Hun Sen, and urged the authorities to show restraint.

“We are following the situation in Cambodia with serious concern and are deeply alarmed by the disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officials in responding to demonstrations,” said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Protest rallies have been banned in Cambodia where several protesters were shot dead Friday during a demonstration in the capital Phnom Penh and others injured by gunfire and beatings.

On Monday, five activists were detained temporarily as they tried to protest against the crackdown.

“We call on the Cambodian authorities and security forces to exercise utmost restraint. Policing of demonstrations must comply at all times with international human rights obligations and international standards in maintaining public order,” Colville told reporters.

Cambodia must launch a “prompt and thorough investigation” of the security forces’ actions and ensure that members found to have used disproportionate and excessive force are held accountable, he said.

Colville also expressed concern about the disappearance of 23 people detained after last week’s protests, including at least one minor.

“We urge the Cambodian authorities to allow all those held incommunicado to have access to their families, legal representation and, if needed, medical care. If not charged with a legally defined offence, they should be released immediately,” he said.

Hun Sen faces an increasing challenge to his nearly three-decade rule from striking workers as well as opposition supporters who accuse him of seeking to silence critics and demand that he step down and call a new election due to alleged vote fraud in a July 2013 election.

Colville said that protesters should also exercise “maximum restraint” during their rallies.

“However, acts of sporadic violence during public gatherings must not be used as an excuse to deprive others of their right to freedom of peaceful assembly, a right that must be protected and promoted by the authorities,” he said.

The UN human rights office also announced that the world body’s Cambodia monitor, Surya Subedi, would visit the country from January 12-17.

During the mission, the Nepali is scheduled to meet with Hun Sen and other government officials, as well as human rights activists, community groups, and UN and donor-country officials based in Cambodia.

Subedi reports to the UN Human Rights Council, the international community’s top rights watchdog, and has visited Cambodia nine times since his appointment in 2009.

He has urged the government to step up promised reforms in order to protect and promote human rights, to accelerate democratisation, and ensure that the benefits of economic growth are more fairly spread across the population.


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