Human Rights Council Holds Separate Interactive Dialogues with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia and the Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia – Somalia

The Human Rights Council, in a midday meeting, held separate interactive dialogues with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, and the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, both under its agenda item on technical assistance and capacity building.

Vitit Muntarbhorn, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, said the theme of his report was “Landmarks and Benchmarks”, identifying a range of benchmarks, such as needed apertures for civil and political rights, to stimulate implementation of human rights in the country. Cambodia’s development epitomised constructive developments on many fronts. Nevertheless, Cambodia was faced with disquieting dilemmas linked with a range of human rights concerns and democratic aspirations. The shrunken civic and political space was heavily stockaded, especially vis a vis human rights advocates and the political opposition. Cambodia should open up civic and political space, including by suspending and reforming laws of a draconian kind. The Government should also end the prosecution of the political opposition and human rights defenders and related personnel, release them and drop the charges against them.

Cambodia, speaking as a country concerned, said Cambodia’s constructive engagement with the Special Rapporteur, including further access to the country, was indisputable. It should be noted that the opinion of the Special Rapporteur was personal. The report recognised, in a brief and narrow scope, certain positive elements, despite the Government’s genuine dialogue, but did not set the record straight on many fronts. On this partial basis, conclusions of a political nature had been drawn. The Special Rapporteur’s flat refusal to offer medical proof of an individual he advocated for having autism brought into question his observance of the code of conduct. The report also contained subjective and selective particulars.

In the discussion on Cambodia, some speakers welcomed Cambodia’s cooperation with Special Procedures, as well as the efforts made by the State in strengthening the social protection and healthcare system while combatting COVID-19. Despite progress achieved, some speakers were concerned about repression regarding civil and political rights as well as the further shrinking of civic space. The use of criminal charges and attacks against journalists, human rights defenders, and political activists, as well as members of the opposition, was extremely worrying. A number of speakers rejected the practice of countries interfering with Cambodia’s internal affairs under the pretext of human rights, expressing hope that all States would abide by the principles outlined in the United Nations Charter and respect Cambodia’s sovereignty. They said country mandates should not be established without the consent of the country concerned.

The Council then held an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia.

Isha Dyfan, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, said Somalia was experiencing a fourth consecutive failed rainy season, which had led to unprecedented drought and ravaged at least 90 per cent of Somalia’s districts. This had caused a grave humanitarian crisis affecting more than seven million people, in terms of food shortage, child mortality and acute malnutrition, and increased fighting over ever scarcer resources, which had resulted in mass displacement and an increase in violence against women and children. There was an urgent need to ensure adequate and sustained funding that went beyond immediate lifesaving and humanitarian response towards sustainable activities to prevent this recurring crisis. The major challenge to the peace building and state building efforts in Somalia continued to be the long-running armed conflict and its heavy toll on civilians, damaging infrastructure and livelihoods, forcibly displacing millions of people, and impeding access to humanitarian relief for communities in need.

Somalia, speaking as a country concerned, said the new Government was facing many challenges, including lack of security and recurrent drought. In order to tackle these obstacles, joint action led by the Somali national army and community had been launched with the aim of ending the culture of violence and extremism nationwide. The Government was also prioritising the ongoing drought which had the unfortunate potential to transition into a full-blown famine. There was no doubt that the Government had made progress in the area of human rights in past years. The new Government would continue to put in place more legislation, policies, and measures to create a conducive environment for human rights for all in Somalia.

In the discussion on Somalia, some speakers said that while a few positive developments had happened, concerns remained about the peace, security, and humanitarian challenges that persisted in Somalia. The humanitarian situation in Somalia was dire, and it continued to worsen. There was also concern for ongoing violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law in Somalia, of which Al-Shabaab was the main perpetrator. A lack of accountability for perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses persisted.

Some speakers said there should be galvanised support for the Government in responding to the drought emergency, and the international community should redouble its efforts to support the road to recovery in Somalia, in a time of growing global crises. The Council should, one speaker said, suspend further resolutions on the country. The Independent Expert should exercise her mandate within the provisions of the code of conduct.

Speaking in the discussion on Cambodia were Finland on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Cambodia on behalf of a group of countries, Switzerland, Ireland, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, France, Australia, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Russian Federation, China, Syria, United States, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, Belarus, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Yemen, Belgium, Japan, Morocco, Brunei, Lebanon, India, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Cameroon, Egypt, Cuba, Turkey, Philippines, Tanzania, Republic of Korea, Timor-Leste, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Burkina Faso, and Azerbaijan.

Also speaking were the following non-governmental organizations: Article 19 – International Centre against Censorship, Association Ma’onah fo Human Rights and Immigration, Human Rights Now, International Federation for Human Rights League, CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, and Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada.

Speaking in the discussion on Somalia were European Union, Saudi Arabia on behalf of a group of countries, Qatar, South Sudan, Senegal, Egypt, Ireland, United Nations Children’s Fund, France, Ethiopia, Australia, Venezuela, Russian Federation, China, United States, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Yemen, Sudan, Eritrea, Botswana, Luxembourg, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iceland on behalf of a group of countries, and Mauritania.

Also speaking were the following non-governmental organizations: Organisation Internationale pour les Pays Les Moins Avancés, Legal Action Worldwide, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Minority Rights Group, Elizka Relief Foundation, Institut International Pour les Droits et le Développement, iuventum e.V, and Advocates for Human Rights.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found hereOpens in new window. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s fifty-first regular session can be found hereOpens in new window.

The Council will next hold an enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in the Philippines, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic. Time permitting, it will then start its general debate on agenda item 10 on technical assistance and capacity building.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia

Report

The Council has before it the report Opens in new windowof the **Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia **(A/HRC/51/66).

Presentation of Report

VITIT MUNTARBHORN, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, said the theme of his report was “Landmarks and Benchmarks”, identifying a range of benchmarks, such as needed apertures for civil and political rights, to stimulate implementation of human rights in the country. The tenth Constitutional amendment took place in 2022, hastily with little public participation, and was weighted in favour of those in power. Cambodia’s development epitomised constructive developments on many fronts. It had been chairing well the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in very difficult times and had been exemplary in offering vaccination to its population on a near-universal basis. A number of measures in the legal field to broaden access to justice, such as legal aid and alternative dispute settlement, were notable. Nevertheless, Cambodia was faced with disquieting dilemmas linked with a range of human rights concerns and democratic aspirations which deserved close attention from the national setting and the international community.

Mr. Muntarbhorn said that in recent years, Cambodia had been faced with many court cases facing human rights defenders, environmental activists, media personnel and members of the opposition, seen as antithetical to the authorities. A major concern was that all the pillars of the system were very much beholden to the monopoly which prevailed at the top. This co-optation jeopardised any aspirations to be free and fair and it affected the electoral process, the administration of justice, the State’s modus operandi, and the people’s modus vivendi. The shrunken civic and political space was heavily stockaded, especially vis a vis human rights advocates and the political opposition.

Cambodia should, among other points, implement effectively the recommendations from the reports of the United Nations Special Rapporteur, the human rights treaty bodies, and the Universal Periodic Review through practical policies and related practices. It should open up civic and political space, including by suspending and reforming laws of a draconian kind. The Government should also end the prosecution of the political opposition and human rights defenders and related personnel, release them and drop the charges against them. It should move beyond the historical accent on peace to promote the synergy between peace, sustainable development, human rights and democracy, with intergenerational bridges anchored on respect for international standards, complemented by local wisdom and balance based on the pluralisation of shared power.

Statement by Country Concerned

Cambodia, speaking as a country concerned, said Cambodia’s constructive engagement with the Special Rapporteur, including further access to the country, was indisputable. It should be noted that the opinion of the Special Rapporteur was personal. The report recognised, in a brief and narrow scope, certain positive elements, despite the Government’s genuine dialogue, but did not set the record straight on many fronts. On this partial basis, conclusions of a political nature had been drawn. No objective and creditable report could contain phrases that were uncertain, giving room for politicised speculations. Also, the Special Rapporteur’s flat refusal to offer medical proof of an individual he advocated for having autism brought into question his observance of the code of conduct. The report also contained subjective and selective particulars. The national voting system was not discriminatory.

Discussion on Cambodia

In the discussion, some speakers thanked the Special Rapporteur for his second report on the human rights situation in Cambodia, reiterating strong support for his mandate. They welcomed Cambodia’s cooperation with Special Procedures, as well as the efforts made by the State in strengthening the social protection and healthcare system while combatting COVID-19. Cambodia’s advanced position towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex rights was positively noted, as well as the country’s work in combatting gender-based violence and improving disability reform. Some speakers welcomed the constructive interaction of the Government with international human rights mechanisms, as well as the active efforts of the State to improve the socio-economic rights of the population, especially the rights of workers and the fight against unemployment. The Government of Cambodia was commended for its close engagement with human rights mechanisms to protect human rights, despite challenges the State had faced, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite progress achieved, some speakers were concerned about repression regarding civil and political rights as well as the further shrinking of civic space. The use of criminal charges and attacks against journalists, human rights defenders, and political activists, as well as members of the opposition, was extremely worrying. Some speakers called on Cambodia to release all prisoners arbitrarily detained and cooperate with civil society to ensure their input in policy making. Cambodia needed to end the mass trials against members and supporters of the opposition, and an independent and impartial judiciary needed to be ensured. Some speakers urged Cambodia to move towards a peaceful political environment, stating that it was crucial to form an enabling environment for all actors to ensure free and fair national elections in 2023. Cambodia needed to ensure genuinely that national elections were held next year, which were free from the intimidation of voters. Some speakers urged Cambodia to fully implement the recommendations and other benchmarks identified by the Special Rapporteur in his report, which were also supported by the treaty bodies.

A number of speakers said they rejected the practice of countries interfering with Cambodia’s internal affairs under the pretext of human rights, expressing hope that all States would abide by the principles outlined in the United Nations Charter and respect Cambodia’s sovereignty. The provision of advice, technical assistance and capacity building should take place on the basis of a request, in the framework of the times, limits and priorities of the country concerned. Country mandates should not be established without the consent of the country concerned. Some speakers stressed the need for the Council to carry out its mandate in addressing human rights concerns in a fair, impartial and transparent approach, adhering to principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity and non-interference as enshrined in the United Nations Charter. It was the national authorities who bore primary responsibility for the human rights situation in their country; the international community must merely provide the assistance that it could. The Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights needed to support any initiatives that promoted the human rights of the population based on the principles of non-selectivity and non-politicisation, in accordance with the consent of the Cambodian Government.

Concluding Remarks

Cambodia said that the overwhelming majority of speakers saw Cambodia as the half-full glass. Significant progress mentioned in the Special Rapporteur’s report included women and general equality. The Special Rapporteur’s grievance was that power in Cambodia was constitutionally and democratically elected by the overwhelming majority of the population in 2018, despite an electoral boycott by some groups. The tenth amendment to the Constitution aimed to fill in the gaps in the parliamentary procedure with the view to guarantee the smooth and sustainable functioning of the State bodies. A working group to amend the non-governmental organizations law had concluded its internal review, with the next consultative workshop to be held later this year. There was a rich and critical media, with 2,000 media outlets. Cambodia had taken drastic measures to strengthen the national process to address online scams and human trafficking, with significant results.

VITIT MUNTARBHORN, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, thanked participants in the debate for all of their contributions. On how Cambodia could be helped to implement human rights better, he said it was easier on the economic, social and cultural side and pro-COVID revival activities were welcomed. The more difficult side was the civic and political space and he urged all to look at the 10-point agenda, including recommendations by human rights bodies.

These included civic and political space, prosecutions, addressing land-related issues with a more participatory approach, addressing vulnerabilities, including relating to gender, and improving the quality of law enforcement, among others. Concerning online scams, there was a need to implement effectively the plan put forward by the national committee for countering trafficking. It was necessary to have methods to identify victims, rather than just raids and sending them back to the country of origin. The business sector could be invited to come on board with due diligence. While waiting for the national election committee to be more pluralistic, there should be broader recruitment of election-related personnel at all levels to ensure their impartiality.

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia

Report

The Council has before it the report Opens in new windowof the **Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia **(A/HRC/51/65).

Presentation of Report

ISHA DYFAN, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, said the focus of the report was on economic, social and cultural rights, as they related to the seven key benchmarks and the political and security developments, as well as the humanitarian situation, including the impact of climate change. Somalia was experiencing a fourth consecutive failed rainy season, which had led to unprecedented drought and ravaged at least 90 per cent of Somalia’s districts. This had caused a grave humanitarian crisis affecting more than seven million people, in terms of food shortage, child mortality and acute malnutrition, and increased fighting over ever scarcer resources, which had resulted in mass displacement and an increase in violence against women and children. There was an urgent need to ensure adequate and sustained funding that went beyond immediate lifesaving and humanitarian response towards sustainable activities to prevent this recurring crisis.

The major challenge to the peace building and state building efforts in Somalia continued to be the long-running armed conflict and its heavy toll on civilians, damaging infrastructure and livelihoods, forcibly displacing millions of people, and impeding access to humanitarian relief for communities in need. For freedom of expression guaranteed by the Provisional Constitution of Somalia 2012 to become a living reality, Somalia must take urgent steps to bring media legislation in line with the provisional Federal Constitution and regional and international human rights standards, and amend laws criminalising the work of journalists and media houses, and ensure accountability. The report concluded with a number of recommendations, including to the international community to urgently redouble efforts to support Somalia in light of the joint appeal for funding to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis; and to the Federal Government of Somalia to establish a national human rights commission, ensure a safe and enabling environment for journalists and media workers, and declare a moratorium on the death penalty.

Statement by Country Concerned

Somalia, speaking as a country concerned, said Somalia had successfully concluded its electoral process and peaceful transition of power with the election of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. The new Somali Government had established six key pillars to advance its priorities: liberation and security; justice and independent judiciary; reconciliation; financial sustainability; social affairs advancement; and a constructive foreign affairs agenda. The new Government was facing many challenges, including lack of security and recurrent drought. In order to tackle these obstacles, joint action led by the Somali national army and community had been launched with the aim of ending the culture of violence and extremism nationwide. The Government was also prioritising the ongoing drought which had the unfortunate potential to transition into a full-blown famine.

There was no doubt that the Government had made progress in the area of human rights in past years. The new Government would continue to put in place more legislation, policies, and measures to create a conducive environment for human rights for all those in Somalia. Finalising the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission was a priority of the new Government. It was also in the process of establishing independent human rights monitoring mechanisms as well as independent instruments to ensure the proper administration of justice and the attainment of accountability. The development of peace and security were out of reach without the preservation of human rights. Somalia had adopted a human rights-based approach in its National Development Plan 2020-2024 and was committed to end impunity and violence conflict.

Discussion on Somalia

In the discussion, some speakers said that while a few positive developments had happened, concerns remained about the peace, security, and humanitarian challenges that persisted in Somalia. The humanitarian situation in Somalia was dire, and it continued to worsen. There was alarm that an estimated 7.1 million people – or 45 per cent of the total population – were acutely food insecure and that over one million people had been displaced due to the drought. This had left women and children increasingly vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence. There was also concern for ongoing violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law in Somalia, of which Al-Shabaab was the main perpetrator, and speakers deplored the reported increase in grave violations of child rights, violence against journalists, violence against women and girls, including sexual and gender-based violence, and in the rising number of cases of female genital mutilation during the past two years.

A lack of accountability for perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses persisted. Some speakers noted that the Government of Somalia had adopted a National Action Plan to address conflict-related sexual violence, however, no legislative framework had been adopted in the period under review to advance gender equality and empower women in Somalia. The Government of Somalia and the Somali Cabinet should finalise the review of the Penal Code, adopt sexual offenses legislation, and endorse a female genital mutilation bill in line with international standards as well as legislation to protect the rights of children. These were crucial to deliver the commitments made in the National Development Plan for 2020-2024. Many speakers raised the issue of the death penalty, saying they were concerned that it was being abused, and urging a moratorium on its use. The impending famine in the Baidoa and Burhakaba districts and resulting increase in internally displaced persons compounded concern.

Peace and security were the main elements ensuring the protection and promotion of human rights. Some speakers said there should be galvanised support for the Government in responding to the drought emergency, and the international community should redouble its efforts to support the road to recovery in Somalia, in a time of growing global crises. The Council should, one speaker said, suspend further resolutions on the country. Technical assistance and capacity building should always be done with the cooperation of the country concerned, another speaker said, noting that Somalia was determined to improve its human rights record, and cooperated with the Council’s mechanisms. The Independent Expert should exercise her mandate within the provisions of the code of conduct, and in a spirit of non-interference in the independence of States, and respecting its cultural, ethnic, political and historical specificities. Somalia was still experiencing a difficult military and political situation, and the Government was taking measures to fight such challenges. States and international human rights institutions, including the Independent Expert, should build further interaction with Somalia on the basis of the State’s interests.

Concluding Remarks

ISHA DYFAN, Independent Expert on the human rights in Somalia, thanked all speakers for their comments on the reports, saying Somalia was at a critical juncture and sustained commitment to human rights in the country should be maintained. On supporting the Somali security transition, the key element in sustaining peace should be done in parallel with strengthening the rule of law and accountability mechanisms, including by making sure that the laws and policies protected civilians. Ms. Dyfan called for increased support for civil society organizations and urged the Government to enhance funding for security forces.

The report highlighted many challenges which hindered the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights in Somalia, including climate chance. The benchmarks were designed to draw from plans, including the revised transition plan. Ms. Dyfan welcomed the statement of Somalia and reiterated the call on the authorities to establish processes for the collection, analysis, tracking, data and reporting on human rights. She called on the Government to conduct an annual assessment of the project and hoped that such progress would be monitored during the next visit. She urged international and national partners to support the people and governments to continue their work. The international community needed to provide the federal government with technical support regarding drafting new legislation. Ms. Dyfan looked forward to engaging with all stakeholders on the situation of human rights in Somalia.

Produced by the United Nations Information Service in Geneva for use of the information media;
not an official record. English and French versions of our releases are different as they are the product of two separate coverage teams that work independently.

HRC22.114E

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