The U.N.’s rights monitor for Cambodia on Thursday urged Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy to immediately negotiate an end to their five-month political deadlock, saying it was the “only way forward” for the country.
While condemning a recent bloody crackdown on street protests, U.N. envoy Surya Subedi said he was concerned about the impact the political impasse between the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was having on human rights in the country.
“The only way forward for the country is a political settlement. I see no other way forward,” he told reporters at a press conference at the end of a six-day fact-finding mission to Cambodia.
“Having listened to both sides, I believe it is imperative for the leaders to overcome the mistrust and immediately return to the negotiating table without further delay,” said Subedi, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia.
The CNRP has boycotted parliament in protest against national polls in July in which the CPP was declared the official victor, leading mass rallies drawing tens of thousands of people calling for Hun Sen to step down.
Subedi’s visit to Cambodia, his first since the elections, comes after security forces shot and killed at least four people in a Jan. 3 crackdown on CNRP-supported strikes by garment workers demanding a higher minimum wage.
Subedi said the violent crackdown and suppression of other protests had “cast doubt” on any expectations that democracy in Cambodia was maturing.
Until the end of 2013, his assessment of progress on human rights in Cambodia had been “generally positive,” but the government’s recent responses to protests including the crackdown were threatening this evaluation, he said.
Authorities’ actions in putting down opposition demonstrations and protests by striking workers during the week of Jan. 3 “marked a worrying change from a tolerant to a repressive response of the government to public protests,” he said.
Urging authorities to release the 23 arrested in the clampdown immediately and lift its ban on protests in the capital, he called for a “thorough, credible, and independent” investigation into the use of force against protesters.
“I understand that only alleged protesters and not the security forces are being investigated,” he said.
“I strongly recommend that an investigation be undertaken on who issued and who carried out the order to shoot; if no such order was given, the individuals who fired their weapons must be brought to justice.”
He also urged Hun Sen’s government to work with garment workers and representatives to improve the country’s mechanisms for determining minimum wage to properly reflect changes in the cost of living.
'Change is coming'
Subedi will make a formal report to the U.N. in September on his assessment of progress on human rights in Cambodia.
Subedi said he considers Cambodia to be at a “crucial crossroads” and had the opportunity to advance its stance on human rights if it implements many of the reforms put forward in his reports to the UN.
“Change is coming to Cambodia faster than many had anticipated.”
“The challenge for the current political leadership within both of the main political parties is to embrace change and to find a way to manage it in the best interests of the country,” he said.
During his trip Subedi met with Hun Sen and government ministers as well as CNRP leaders, representatives from civil society groups, and relatives of the 23 arrested amid the crackdown.
Families mourn the dead
As Subedi departed Cambodia, some 500 people gathered for a Buddhist ceremony in Phnom Penh dedicated to the four who died in the crackdown, urging authorities to bring those responsible to justice.
Sam Thai, the mother of one of the victims, told RFA she hoped the international community could help bring justice in Cambodia for her son
“Please help me to seek justice. What Hun Sen has done is very unjust,” she said. “He killed the poor Cambodians.”
Minister of the Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the ministry and national police were investigating the case.
Authorities have defended their suppression of recent demonstrations as action taken against protesters inciting violence.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.