Feb 24, 2011
Phnom Penh - The United Nations' human rights envoy to Cambodia highlighted freedom of expression issues and concerns about land rights as he wrapped up his visit to Cambodia Thursday.
'Peaceful expression of opinion should not be dealt with under the penal code as is currently the case with crimes such as defamation,' UN envoy Surya Subedi said of the government's efforts to use the courts to punish its perceived critics in politics, media and civil society.
Subedi said those in public positions should be willing to accept criticism, adding that he was 'concerned about the narrowing of space for people to express their views peacefully and without fear.'
'Criticism is not a crime but an exercise of freedom of conscience, an act of intelligence,' he said at the close of his fourth visit.
He also dismissed the government's claim this week that it had decriminalized defamation, saying people could still be fined for speaking their mind, and could be jailed if they refused to pay that fine.
Subedi was in Cambodia on a 10-day visit to assess how effectively parliament upholds human rights in the context of his assessment of institutions deemed 'critical to the promotion and protection of human rights.'
He did praise government efforts to improve the framework around the way land issues were dealt with, and said he was encouraged by the response he had received to a number of issues.
During his stay, Subedi met with government officials, parliamentarians, civil society representatives and donors.
Phnom Penh has long had a rocky relationship with human rights groups.
Last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen said he wanted the UN human rights office in Cambodia to close, and its country head, Christophe Peschoux, fired. A senior government minister described Peschoux as a 'mouthpiece for the opposition.'
A native of Nepal and a British-trained lawyer, Subedi is mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to report on human rights in Cambodia.
He submitted his last report to the body in September in which he recommended numerous reforms to the country's judiciary. He said Thursday that he would have preferred better cooperation from Phnom Penh in implementing those reforms.