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UN rights expert urges Cambodia to strengthen protections for women, indigenous people

[JURIST] The UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith [official profile, PDF], on Friday appealed [press release] to the country to strengthen the protection of its women and the rights of its indigenous peoples. In her End of Mission Statement [statement, PDF] on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Smith particularly highlighted the "prevalence of violence against women, which continues to present itself as a pervasive human rights violation in Cambodia" and stressed the need for "A revision of the current Law on Prevention of Domestic Violence and Victims' Protection ... to ensure that the response to domestic violence in Cambodia conforms to international standards." Smith also pointed to various other shortfalls in protection of women's rights including the failure to protect identify of victims, use of exploitative and degrading imagery that "perpetuates discriminatory stereotypes and contributes to the desensitization and normalization of violence against women," forced labor conditions for domestic female workers, and increasing vulnerability to human trafficking of women. Smith emphasized that "Strengthening judicial mechanisms which protect victims' rights and ensure the fair prosecution of alleged perpetrators as well as developing gender‐sensitivity training among law enforcement officers," the judiciary, and the press are crucial to achieving real women's rights progress. As to indigenous rights, Smith pointed to deficiencies in the system which have led to unresolved land disputes and displacement of communities, and stressed the need for "clear and transparent resettlement plans that take into account "preservation of sacred forests, burial sites and usufructory practices."

Cambodia has had a history of human rights abuses that have continued to alarm rights organizations around the world. In October the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] expressed concern [JURIST report] over the "organized attack" on opposition politicians in Cambodia. In July 11 Cambodian opposition members were sentenced to long prison terms [JURIST report] for participating in July 2014 clashes related to the closing of a protest site. Three of the 11 individuals, all part of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) [party website], were handed 20-year sentences [Phnom Penh Post report]. In March 2015 Cambodia's Parliament passed [JURIST report] two controversial new election laws that rights groups criticized as ill-conceived and potentially damaging to free speech. In January 2015 Cambodian General Sao Sohka admitted to using force [JURIST report] against political opponents of the reigning Cambodian People's Party. Also in January 2015 the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) restarted genocide hearings [JURIST report] against the former Khmer Rouge regime's surviving leaders. Proceedings had been postponed since November 2014, when defense lawyers refused to participate [JURIST report] because they were still working to appeal an earlier verdict. Cambodia continues to struggle with the legacy of the Khmer Rouge, an extremist group that attempted to set up an agrarian socialist society in the nation in the mid- to late-1970s. In October 2014 the Cambodian government released survey findings [JURIST report] that showed the magnitude of violence against children throughout the country.

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