Amid Cambodia protests, UN appeals for calm

New York, Dec 28 : An independent United Nations human rights expert on Friday urged Cambodian authorities to continue to exercise restraint amid daily demonstrations in the capital of Phnom Penh, while also praising the increasing democratic space allowing people to comfortably express themselves in the streets without fear of retaliation and warning them against resorting to violence.

Surya P. Subedi, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, appealed to all sides to exercise "the utmost restraint and calm," adding that tolerance and racial harmony are crucial for the future of democracy in the country.

Members of the opposition have been boycotting the Cambodian National Assembly for more than five months in a reported attempt to oust Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose win in the last election extended his 28-year rule, alleging vote-rigging and calling for a new election. They have recently been joined by thousands of garment workers pressing for higher wages.

The Special Rapporteur has called for "meaningful talks to resolve the current dispute" based on concrete data that reflect the real cost of a dignified life respectful of human rights.

"All parties - the Government, striking workers, trade unions, the factories and buyers - needed to reassure protesting workers that they would develop a realistic wage structure," he said in a news release.

Turning to the political dispute that sent the protestors originally to the street, Subedi urged both sides to return to the negotiation table.

"Any dispute needs a credible mechanism for dispute resolution which is acceptable to both sides. Such a mechanism was missing and this is why frustrated opposition supporters have taken to the streets," he said.

The expert also expressed "cautious optimism for 2014," saying that the recent election can "mark a turning point in the process of improving the protection of human rights" in the country.

"There seems to be an emerging consensus that reform needs to take place in many sectors, including electoral management, justice, land management, labour, education and health care," he said, adding that there was a pressing need to develop effective ways of settling disputes.

"The opportunities are there. This is the moment to seize them and to translate promises of meaningful structural reform into reality," he said, pledging support to the Government and the opposition in this regard.

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.

--IBNS (Posted on 28-12-2013)

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