[Joint Statement] Cambodia: Civil society condemns human rights violation during election
26 July 2023 2:30 pm

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation condemn the pattern of intimidation and retaliation against media workers, civil society, and political opponents in the run-up to, during, and after elections in Cambodia.

On 23 July 2023, Cambodia’s citizens were called to cast their ballot for the general election, which is

considered by the international community and civil society to be neither free nor fair.

Preliminary results made public by the National Election Committee showed that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won 120 (or 95 per cent) of the 125 seats in parliament. Such results do not come as a surprise as the sole viable opposition party, the Candlelight Party, was barred from participating in the elections in May. As a result, there has been a lack of authentic and real electoral competition in Cambodia.

‘Despite continuous scrutiny by the international community, the Government of Cambodia has been systematically silencing dissent and political opposition by utilising bureaucratic harassment and intimidation,’ said Mary Aileen Diez-Bacalso, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA. Furthermore, she said: ‘ These incidents are contrary to the very foundation of the right of suffrage incorporated in two documents: the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the 1976 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of which Cambodia is a state party.’

During the election, the government has criminalised any action which could be interpreted as an attempt to boycott the election or spoil ballot papers. Voters who destroyed their votes were warned by Cambodia’s autocratic leader to either turn themselves in or face legal repercussions.

In the run-up to the election, four representatives of the opposition Candlelight Party were arrested for spoiling ballots, encouraging people to destroy ballots, and ‘disturbing the peace’. On similar grounds, the Cambodian Government also fined 17 other opposition activists and politicians, barring them from holding elected office for 20 years.

Following the elections, CamboJA News reported that a former official of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) from Banteay Meanchey–Chao Veasna–was arrested after being named as one of the 44 people linked to a Telegram group which allegedly discussed spoiling ballots. Further, the personal identities of these opposition activists were disclosed to the public, including phone numbers.

The majority of the arrests were made using the amended election law, which was passed just before the elections. The amendment imposes criminal liability on individuals who interfere with or disrupt an election or the process of registering voters. This includes calling on others not to register to vote, or not to vote or to spoil ballot papers.

Call to Action

‘Spoiling your ballot or calling for others to do so should not be a crime especially when the credibility of the election has been seriously called into question. The international community must call out the intimidation deployed by the Cambodian government around the elections and not give it any legitimacy,’ said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia Pacific Researcher.

FORUM-ASIA and CIVICUS urge the Cambodian Government to stop stifling dissent through intimidation and judicial harassment.

We are in solidarity with Cambodia’s human rights defenders and activists. We call on the government to respect its citizens’ right to free and fair elections.

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is a network of 85 member organisations across 23 countries, mainly in Asia. Founded in 1991, FORUM-ASIA works to strengthen movements for human rights and sustainable development through research, advocacy, capacity development and solidarity actions in Asia and beyond. It has consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and consultative relationship with the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. The FORUM-ASIA Secretariat is based in Bangkok, with offices in Jakarta, Geneva and Kathmandu. www.forum-asia.org

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global alliance dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world with 8,500 members in more than 175 countries. Based out of Johannesburg, CIVICUS has offices in New York and Geneva. www.civicus.org

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