Sweden expresses great concern for Cambodia’s democracy

The 6th annual human rights dialogue between Sweden and Cambodia took place from 16-18 October in Phnom Penh. The deliberations were led by Sweden’s Ambassador for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, Ms Annika Ben David.

The Swedish Government’s press release informs that the Cambodian delegation was headed by the country’s state-owned Human Rights committee and included representatives of trade ministries under the Cambodian government. A separate meeting with the Minister for Information Affairs took place, as did a conversation with the Minister for Gender Affairs.

The discussions within the human rights dialogue concerned issues such as freedom of expression and the right to information. The enjoyment of Human Rights by LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] people as well as women and girls was deliberated. The Dialogue on Trade Union Rights and the Global Deal was held at the Ministry of Labour, including visits to the Arbitration Tribunal, together with trade representatives and H & M, which has extensive production in the country.

In addition to the Human Rights dialogue, the delegation also held talks with representatives from Cambodian administration, the political opposition, civil society, including MR defenders and aid organizations, as well as with international organizations and local media.

The bilateral dialogue on Human Rights was an opportunity to address the message to the Cambodian government about the recent negative development for democracy and human rights, writes the Swedish Government.

“Sweden is deeply concerned about the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha and on further restrictions for the media and civil society to work freely,” says Annika Ben David. The actions initiated to dissolve the CNRP opposition party raise great concern for democracy in Cambodia.

The visit gave the opportunity to acquire more knowledge of developments in the country and concerning the role for Sweden and the EU. This is especially important in the light of recent negative developments.

Talking to the media in Cambodia on 19 October Sweden’s Ambassador-at-large for Human Rights stated that Sweden would rethink its engagement with Cambodia if the main opposition party is dissolved. The banning of the opposition party could have consequences.

For the 6th Dialogue between Sweden and Cambodia on human rights Ms Annika Ben David was accompanied by the Ambassador of Sweden to Cambodia H.E. Ms Maria Sargren, Minister-Counsellor Mr Kaarlo Laakso and members of the Swedish Embassy and Swedish development cooperation.

Fr. left: Sweden’s Ambassador for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, Ms Annika Ben David; Minister-Counsellor Mr Kaarlo Laakso; and Ambassador of Sweden to Cambodia H.E. Ms Maria Sargren

They met with the political opposotion on 18 October. “Very concerned regarding steps to dissolve CNRP party,” tweeted Annika Ben David.

On the same the Swedish delegation also met with students at Raol Wallenberg Institute’s Master’s program in human rights at Pannasastra University, Phnom Penh.

The dialogue is held with the Cambodian main interlocutor, the Cambodia Human Rights Committee, as well as with Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Ministry of Information, Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training. To broaden the understanding of the Swedish delegation of the situation in the country, additional meetings with other stakeholders, such as civil society organizations, are held.

The Embassy of Sweden in Phom Penh writes: The human rights situation is complex in Cambodia. In some areas, improvements have been made while other areas have deteriorated. In recent years, there have been significant challenges in the priority areas of Sweden such as the rule of law and freedom of expression. In addition to rule of law and freedom of expression the issue of land rights is one of the most important human rights issues in Cambodia. It has economic, social and environmental implications and often involves the abuse of poor people’s rights.

Swedish support in the area of human rights has mainly entailed support to and through UN agencies and civil society. Cooperation with civil society in Cambodia has increased the domestic expertise and capacity to engage in advocacy for better laws and policies and to provide legal aid to poor and vulnerable groups. The support has also increased awareness of rights and access to legal advice.

Since 2008 Sweden has a bilateral dialogue with Cambodia on human rights. The three priority areas for the dialogue are; freedom of expression, labour rights and human rights education.

In recent years, Sweden has also increased its cooperation with other actors in order to strengthen respect for human rights. Sweden; has for example initiated human rights dialogue with the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, but also with universities in order to support education and research in the field.

The cooperation with Cambodia aims to increase capacity in terms of human rights and the rule of law in public administration and support a civil society engaged in norm-based advocacy for increased democratization or that works to improve public capacity for political accountability and responsibility.

Sources: Swedish Ambassador for Human Rights, Swedish Government, local media Cambodia, Embassy of Sweden in Phnom Penh

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