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Insights from the 46th UPR Session: Assessing Cambodia's Human Rights Landscape

© 2022 Heng Sinith/AP Photo

Insights from the 46th UPR Session: Assessing Cambodia's Human Rights Landscape


Written by Haneen Alawawdeh

Team UN Geneva Researcher,

Global Human Rights Defence. 

The 15th meeting of the 46th session of the Working Group of the Universal Periodic Review of Cambodia commenced on May 8, 2024, in Geneva. During this session, Mr. Soti Keo, Vice Chair of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, presented Cambodia’s report. He acknowledged collaborative efforts with UN human rights mechanisms and highlighted Cambodia’s engagement with international treaties and special rapporteurs. He stated that shaped by its history and development, Cambodia’s approach to democracy and human rights emphasizes tangible outcomes, evidenced by strides in political stability, economic growth, and justice-seeking through mechanisms like the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), contributing to healing and reinforcing the rule of law.


He states that economic growth has propelled Cambodia’s transformation, significantly reducing poverty rates despite challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic. With ambitious economic goals, Cambodia aims to achieve upper-middle-income status by 2030 and high-income status by 2050. This vision is supported by expanded social assistance programs and a roadmap for universal health coverage. Prioritizing digital transformation for sustainable development, Cambodia is initiating efforts to boost digital infrastructure, skills, and governance, including drafting a personal data protection law. Vice Chair Soti Keo reiterated Cambodia’s constitutional commitment to human rights, emphasizing the state’s engagement with UN mechanisms and collaborative efforts with government agencies and civil society to monitor progress and implement recommendations. This demonstrates Cambodia’s dedication to advancing human rights and fostering inclusive development.


He clarifies that in the education sector, Cambodia is dedicated to SDG 4 goals, ensuring free education up to grade 9 and enhancing quality through various reforms. Special attention is given to marginalized groups such as females, LGBT individuals, children with disabilities, and ethnic minorities. Multilingual education programs and policies promoting inclusivity exemplify Cambodia’s commitment to equitable access to education, aligning with human rights principles and sustainable progress.

In the critical endeavor of combatting human trafficking and forced labor, Cambodia faces multifaceted challenges that demand concerted action and robust policies. Malta and Saudi Arabia emphasize the urgent need to address human trafficking as a pressing issue. Similarly, Belarus urges Cambodia to persist in implementing measures to combat human trafficking and strengthen the capabilities of the national council tasked with countering trafficking, fundamental for fostering a just and equitable society. Georgia encourages addressing root causes comprehensively and appreciates cooperation with international human rights mechanisms. On the other hand, Mexico calls for strengthened efforts to combat trafficking in persons, particularly for sexual or labor exploitation, with a focus on addressing cyber scams. Mexico emphasizes the need to ensure adequate protection and comprehensive reparation for victims, especially women and girls who are disproportionately affected by these crimes.


In terms of freedom of expression and assembly, various countries have expressed concerns and recommendations. Ireland highlighted restrictions on political freedoms and freedom of expression, while Italy emphasized the importance of guaranteeing fundamental freedoms for journalists and activists without fear of reprisal or persecution. Concerns persist in The Netherlands regarding reprisals and arbitrary restrictions against individuals and organizations advocating for human rights. Suggestions include abolishing or amending Articles 494 and 495 of the criminal code, which likely restrict freedoms of expression and association. France suggested revising laws to protect freedom of expression. Canada urged Cambodia to uphold democracy by allowing political parties and media to operate freely, with Estonia expressing worries about shrinking democratic space. Norway emphasizes the importance of preserving freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, emphasizing the need to restore civic space and foster conditions conducive to a genuine multiparty democracy, including facilitating free and fair elections and ensuring media independence.


In the sphere of protecting indigenous peoples’ rights, a range of recommendations has been put forth to Cambodia by various nations. Croatia recommends the enactment of a specific anti-discrimination law to protect ethnic minorities, aiming to address existing inequalities and promote social cohesion and inclusion. Italy advises the adoption of an adequate legal framework to recognize and safeguard the rights of indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, particularly concerning land and resources. Brazil stresses the incorporation of mechanisms for consulting local communities and indigenous peoples in decision-making processes, particularly concerning their lands and resources, to safeguard their rights and ensure their participation in matters affecting their livelihoods and well-being. Furthermore, the United Kingdom emphasizes the importance of safeguarding the rights of indigenous peoples, particularly regarding economic land concessions and dam construction, advocating for meaningful prior consultation, coherent resettlement schemes, and adequate compensation for affected communities. Bolivia urges Cambodia to enhance its normative framework on public policies to ensure economic, social, and cultural rights for indigenous peoples, including addressing historical injustices and ensuring equitable access to resources and opportunities.


In the realm of gender equality and women’s empowerment, several countries have offered recommendations to Cambodia aimed at addressing various challenges. Mexico proposes revising civil code articles to establish 18 as the minimum age for marriage without exception, alongside awareness-raising campaigns to combat child and forced marriages. Moreover, Mexico advocates for the development of a legal framework recognizing self-defined gender identity and allowing for equal marriage for LGBTQ+ individuals. Slovenia emphasizes thorough investigations into cases of discrimination and violence against women. Concerns are also expressed about the high unemployment of women in rural areas and limited access to sexual and reproductive health services. Spain commends Cambodia’s efforts to incorporate a gender perspective into recent initiatives and suggests reforms to enhance the protection of women from domestic violence and increase their participation in public institutions.


In addressing access to education and healthcare, recommendations underscore the necessity of ensuring equitable access to essential services for all segments of society in Cambodia. Poland emphasizes improving quality health services, particularly in rural areas and for vulnerable groups, highlighting the need for adequate healthcare facilities and sanitation. Singapore acknowledges Cambodia’s progress in reducing maternal, child, and infant mortality rates, advising continued efforts to enhance public health infrastructure, particularly focusing on maternal services. Turkey advocates ongoing reforms in public education, emphasizing the importance of making primary education compulsory and accessible to all. Malaysia suggests strengthening economic and social development, including improving essential services like healthcare and education, while Vietnam recommends enhancing policies to improve employment access for various demographic groups, promoting inclusive economic growth. On the other hand, Lithuania and Azerbaijan commend Cambodia’s strides in advancing the rights of persons with disabilities, suggesting the adoption of dedicated legislation and continued efforts to promote inclusion and support for this community, ensuring their rights and dignity are upheld.


In addressing child protection and preventing statelessness, various countries have put forth recommendations to bolster Cambodia’s efforts. Lithuania emphasizes the need for enhanced monitoring and investigation of sexual violence against children, ensuring accountability for perpetrators and adequate support services for victims. Thailand advises Cambodia to enhance efforts in preventing and protecting children from sexual exploitation and other related risks, emphasizing the importance of safeguarding their rights and well-being, particularly in vulnerable situations. Morocco recommends ratifying the optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on communications procedure to improve children’s access to justice. Panama suggests the development of a national action plan to prevent child marriage and teenage pregnancy, with active involvement from girls in its formulation and implementation. Portugal acknowledges Cambodia’s positive steps but recommends concrete measures to eliminate barriers hindering girls’ access to secondary and tertiary education.


In the realm of judicial reforms and independence of judiciary, a chorus of international voices echoes the imperative for Cambodia to address pressing concerns and undertake substantial reforms. Luxembourg underscores the need for expeditiously establishing a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) in line with the Paris principles, equipped with autonomy and resources to effectively promote and protect human rights. Similarly, calls to tackle corruption and impunity concerning land rights issues and promote thorough investigations into past human rights violations resonate from Luxembourg, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Finland, Sudan, Denmark, and Switzerland, emphasizing accountability, transparency, and justice. Additionally, Sudan and Switzerland advocate for legislative reforms to uphold human rights standards. These recommendations collectively emphasize the importance of upholding human rights principles, fostering accountability, and ensuring the independence and efficacy of judicial systems within Cambodia.


The Cambodian delegation responded comprehensively to various observations and questions, showcasing the government’s multifaceted efforts across different sectors. Dr. Sokretichet, advisor to the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction, highlighted achievements in land management, including the issuance of over 7 million land titles and the resolution of thousands of land dispute cases. Gender equality in land rights was emphasized, ensuring women’s equal participation. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs provided updates on gender equality initiatives and efforts to prevent violence against women, resulting in improved coordination and a decrease in intimate partner violence. Plans for legal reform and initiatives to promote gender equality in decision-making were outlined.


Additionally, the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training in Cambodia outlined their approach to addressing labor rights and decent work conditions, emphasizing the connection between international trade and working conditions. They highlighted efforts to promote freedom of association, including ratifying ILO Conventions 87 and 98, simplifying trade union registration, and increasing professional organizations. Additionally, initiatives to protect children from labor exploitation and enhance social security benefits for workers were underscored. In parallel, the Cambodian Human Rights Committee reiterated the government’s dedication to combat human trafficking and discrimination, citing successful crackdowns on trafficking cases and strengthened cooperation with stakeholders. Regarding LGBT rights, Cambodia emphasized protection against discrimination and efforts to promote awareness and acceptance, showcasing collaboration with civil society organizations and advocacy campaigns to advance social recognition and safeguard rights.


During the UPR review session, Cambodia’s response underscored its commitment to freedom of the press and expression while acknowledging the need to combat disinformation. The delegation recognized the crucial role of NGOs and CSOs in promoting social accountability. In addressing concerns about the judiciary, Cambodia outlined efforts to strengthen the legal framework, emphasizing judicial independence and accountability. They affirmed their dedication to upholding the rule of law for long-term socioeconomic development and peace. Additionally, Cambodia highlighted initiatives to combat cybercrime and achieve national territorial integrity, reaffirming its commitment to liberal democracy and outlining future legal reforms aimed at promoting equality and human capital development.


The insights gleaned from the 46th UPR Session offer a nuanced understanding of Cambodia’s human rights landscape. While acknowledging strides made in areas such as political stability and economic growth, the session also sheds light on persistent challenges. Issues such as freedom of expression, gender equality, human trafficking, judicial reforms, and indigenous peoples’ rights remain areas of concern. Recommendations put forth by various nations underscore the imperative for systemic reforms to address these challenges, emphasizing the importance of accountability, transparency, and inclusivity. Cambodia’s response demonstrates a willingness to engage with these recommendations, signaling a commitment to promoting fundamental human rights and fostering sustainable development. However, the road ahead requires concerted efforts to translate commitments into concrete actions, ensuring the protection and advancement of human rights for all Cambodians.


Sources and further readings:

United Nations. (2024). National report submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolutions 5/1 and 16/21*: Cambodia. Retrieved from


United Nations Human Rights Council. (2024). Compilation of information prepared by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights*. Retrieved from


United Nations Human Rights Council. (2024). Summary of stakeholders’ submissions on Cambodia* Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights**. Retrieved from


Human Rights Watch. (2024). Cambodia: Events of 2023. Retrieved from

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