Joint submission to the Universal Periodic Review of Cambodia by ARTICLE 19 and PEN America
For consideration at the 32 Session of the Working Group in January 2019
12 July 2018
1. The submitting organisations observe that in the period under review, the situation for the rights to freedom of
expression, information and association has significantly deteriorated in Cambodia. In this submission ARTICLE
19 and PEN America highlight concerns relating to the right to freedom of expression and information in several
Legal framework for freedom of expression
Threats to human rights defenders, including environmental activists
Freedom of association and the right to participate in public affairs
2. A rollback of press freedom has left the country with almost no independent media, while a political crackdown has
seen the main opposition party dissolved and its leader imprisoned. Since Cambodia’s previous Universal Periodic
Review (UPR), the Cambodian Government has not meaningfully addressed concerns related to these rights and
has failed to bring laws and policies into line with international human rights law. Rather, the government has
further assaulted freedom of expression and tightly circumscribed civic space, including by threatening human
rights defenders, enacting legal provisions criminalising online expression, and facilitating the judicial harassment
of government critics.
Legal Framework for Freedom of Expression
2. During its last UPR, the government accepted 10 recommendations concerning the reform of Cambodia’s legal
framework to bring it into line with international human rights standards. However, no significant progress was
made on implementing those recommendations. Instead, a number of repressive laws and provisions were
enacted, further restricting the enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms. Both new and existing laws have
been wielded by authorities in crackdowns on media, civil society and political opponents.
3. Articles 41 and 42 of Cambodia’s Constitution protect the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and
association. However, broadly worded limitations clauses – permitting limitations to protect “the good traditions of
society” and “public law and order and national security” – have been used to unjustifiably restrict the enjoyment
of these rights.
4. Constitutional amendments passed by the National Assembly on 14 February 2018 and signed into law on 27
February 2018, will enable the government to severely and unjustifiably restrict fundamental rights in violation of
international human rights standards. The constitutional amendments affect five articles of the Constitution, and
include a broadly worded prohibition on “any activity” that “affects the interests” of Cambodia or its citizens. The
amendments also impose duties on political parties to “place the country and nation’s interests first” and allow for
electoral laws to strip citizens of the right to vote or stand for office. The UN Special Rapporteurs on the situation
of human rights in Cambodia and on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and
expression have communicated grave concerns about the constitutional amendments.
All UPR Recommendations and responses cited in this submission are taken from the outcome of the 2 cycle, as reflected in the Report of the Working Group on the
Universal Periodic Review Cambodia (A/HRC/26/16), and the Addendum to the Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Cambodia
118.15 (Canada), 118.16 (Belgium), 118.17 (Belgium), 118.18 (Botswana), 118.19 (Canada), 118.20 (Czech Republic), 118.21 (Ireland), 118.27 (Nepal), 118.102
(Germany) and 118.104 (Switzerland).
Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia, 1993, articles 41 and 42.
For text of amendments, see, “Draft Penal Code Amendment related to Lèse-majesté and Constitutional Amendments Promulgated”, Fresh News, 3 March 2018,
available at: http://en.freshnewsasia.com/index.php/en/7748-2018-03-03-05-59-30.html.
See, “Joint CSO Statement on Legislative Assault on Rights”, 21 February 2018, available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/21/cambodia-reject-draftamendments-constitution-and-criminal-code.
UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “UN experts say constitutional changes in Cambodia impinge on democracy”, 20 February 2018, available at: