Turnbull Government condemns Cambodia’s human rights regress at UN, yet insists refugees can still go there

Turnbull Government condemns Cambodia’s human rights regress at UN, yet insists refugees can still go there

The Australian Government has joined 44 other nations in delivering a scathing statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council overnight on the rapid deterioration of Cambodia’s human rights situation, expressing "deep concern about the recent serious decline of civil and political rights in Cambodia".

The statement comes only 24 hours after Foreign Minister Julie Bishop confirmed that the Government was persisting with its controversial Cambodia refugee deal, in which it paid the authoritarian regime $55 million to take refugees indefinitely detained by the Australian Government on Manus and Nauru.

Daniel Webb, a Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, who is at the UN in Geneva, welcomed the Australian Government’s decision to finally condemn the Hun Sen regime’s brutal authoritarianism but said the Government’s own words showed how unprincipled the Cambodian refugee deal has always been.

"We’re talking about a ruthless regime headed by a former Khmer Rouge commander. The Cambodian Government has imprisoned the opposition leader in appalling conditions, abolished the entire opposition party, jailed human rights advocates and used violence and intimidation against community groups and the media," said Mr Webb.

"It’s about time our Government condemned the Hun Sen regime. It should also admit that paying that same regime $55 million to offload refugees has been a morally bankrupt failure,” said Mr Webb.

The statement, which was presented to the UN by the Government of New Zealand with the endorsement of 44 countries including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and the USA:

  • pressed for the release of Opposition Leader Kem Sokha, noting that he is currently imprisoned "reportedly in isolation, without adequate access to health care, subjected to intrusive observation, and other conditions, such as constant light";
  • urged the Hun Sen regime to "refrain from using judicial, administrative and fiscal measures as political tools against the opposition, the media, civil society and human rights defenders";
  • and called on the Cambodian Government to ensure the upcoming elections are carried out "without threats, arbitrary arrests or acts of intimidation".

The Cambodian Government reacted angrily to the statement, exercising its formal right of reply to bizarrely claim that the countries involved simply "want regime change" and "have their preselected candidates to win".

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, a leading regional human rights organisation, welcomed the statement and called on the international community to press for a dedicated UN briefing ahead of Cambodia’s July elections. A copy of their statement is here.

The full text of the joint statement to the UN is here.

For interviews or further information please call:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519