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Calls for EU to appoint Special Representative on International Justice
by Coalition for the International Criminal Court
July 2018
Civil society organizations call on the European Union to appoint a Special Representative for International Humanitarian law and International Justice.
A group of civil society organizations are calling on the EU to establish a special representative to lead its work to promote compliance with international humanitarian law and seek justice for victims of Rome Statute crimes.
The organizations are the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights, No Peace Without Justice, Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, and the Institute for Global Policy.
On 29 June, 34 members of the European Parliament sent a letter to the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, calling for her to urgently appoint an EU Special Representative for International Humanitarian Law and International Justice.
European lawmakers said, “Now, at a time when the EU and its Member States represent one of the world’s few pillars left supporting an international rules-based order, we need the EU’s principled leadership more than ever, and this leadership would clearly be advanced through a Special Representative dedicated to International Humanitarian Law and International Justice.”
The EU has developed a number of important tools to fight impunity for international crimes and promote respect for international humanitarian law. These include the 2009 Guidelines on Promoting Compliance with International Humanitarian Law (IHL). The EU has also adopted a Common Decision on the International Criminal Court (ICC), one of its few binding decisions in matters of foreign policy, and an Action Plan to support its implementation. July 17, 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the ICC’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute.
“Today’s crises from Syria to Myanmar are marked by an alarming disregard for international law, and civilians are bearing the brunt of atrocities,” said Lotte Leicht, EU director at Human Rights Watch. “A dedicated, high-level expert is urgently needed to better translate EU policy commitments into effective action to prevent violations and ensure justice when they occur.”
The civil society organisations backing the call for a special representative have authored a backgrond report. According to these organisations, an EU special representative would give greater visibility to the EU’s commitments in these areas, while also facilitating timely, high-level intervention in specific situations.
This increased attention is urgently needed. In April 2018, the EU issued its first report on the implementation of these IHL guidelines; the report stressed that given “the continuing and widespread violations of [international humanitarian law], there can be no grounds for complacency by any international actor.”
At the Coalition''s Commemoration of the Rome Statute''s 20th anniversary in February 2018, Mogherini had stated “You know you can count on the EU’s constant support for the Court, we will continue to be the point of reference for all those who work for justice and peace all around the world. The path that started in Rome 20 years ago has only just begun…” With this initiative, civil society is calling for the EU to live up to that promise.
The ICC has opened investigations in 10 countries, but it is asked to act in far more places, given mounting violations and abuses. With state cooperation key to delivering on the ICC’s mandate, greater support by the EU and its member states, including in arrests, is needed.
“The EU has played a key role in pushing the fight against impunity forward, but needs to be on guard against threats that may roll back progress,” said Bill Pace, Convenor of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court. “Investing now in a dedicated expert will send a timely signal of the EU’s renewed support to the ICC and the broader fight for justice it represents,” Pace continued.
"The time is really ripe for the European Union to increase its own capacity to deal with pervasive impunity for atrocities such as war crimes, crimes against humanities, genocide and other crimes under international law. The current landscape is a complicated one and it doesn''t look set to get much better in the near future.
The establishment of a Special Representative on IHL and IJ would also be a strong signal and a visible way to take a strong stand in support of justice and redress for victims. There isn''t a better opportunity than 17 July in this 20th anniversary year to make that stand," said Alison Smith, Director of the International Criminal Justice Program, No Peace Without Justice.
The European Parliament first called for the establishment of a special representative for international humanitarian law and international justice in 2011, and repeated this call most recently in its annual human rights report adopted in December 2017 (European Parliament resolution of 13 December 2017 on the Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World 2016 and the European Union’s policy on the matter). The EU has eight other special representatives, working across seven country situations and in the area of human rights.

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Effective multi-party democracy requires an opposition that can operate freely without intimidation
by BBC News, DW, OHCHR, agencies
17 August 2018
Cambodia elections, by Ravina Shamdasani (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights)
We are concerned about the human rights environment around the elections that were recently held in Cambodia without the dissolved main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). This left a significant proportion of the population without chosen representation, causing concern for their rights to political participation.
People were reportedly intimidated or paid to vote, and civil society organizations faced harassment in the run up to the election. Seventeen popular websites were blocked around election day. There were further restrictions placed on the freedom of expression of individual voters and political opponents who called for a boycott or announced their intention to abstain from voting in the election, including through threats, fines and legal action.
We urge the Government to refrain from taking legal action in such cases. Under human rights law, the right to freedom of expression protects calls for a boycott in a non-compulsory election.
Now that the official results of the national elections have been announced on Wednesday, we call on the Government to create an environment for open and inclusive political debate that allows all voices in Cambodia to be heard.
We urge the Government to release political opponents, journalists, human rights defenders and ordinary citizens who have been detained for exercising their human rights, in particular their right to freedom of expression. We also call on the Government to lift the ban against opponents taking part in political activity, and protect and expand space for civil society.
Respect for human rights and a vibrant civil society that has the space to debate even complex and controversial issues are essential ingredients if the conflict of the past is to be avoided, and if development is to be peaceful and sustainable.
30 July 2018
Cambodia: PM Hun Sen re-elected in landslide victory after brutal crackdown, reports Hannah Ellis-Petersen South-east Asia correspondent for Guardian News.
Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, has won a landslide election victory, a result that was seen as a foregone conclusion after a months-long brutal crackdown destroyed all opposition.
The election, widely condemned as a sham by human rights groups and political observers, saw Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 33 years, re-elected with an estimated 80% of the vote, with his party, the CPP, claiming all 125 parliamentary seats.
Defying international consensus, Hun Sen maintained that he had won in a free and fair election. “You have truly chosen the path of democracy,” he said in a message to Cambodians after the polls closed on Sunday.
It was a preordained result, which surprised nobody and firmly established Cambodia as a de facto one-party state. Over the past year, Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge general, systematically destroyed all form of political opposition, first imprisoning Kem Sokha, the co-leader of the opposition political party, the CNRP, last October on charges of treason. Not long afterwards, the courts, which are widely known to be under the control of Hun Sen, ordered the CNRP to be dissolved entirely, forcing hundreds of its members into exile.
During the past months, Hun Sen has also overseen the forced closure of all independent media in Cambodia, as well as locking up journalists for trumped up charges, and also imprisoning those working for civil society groups and banishing many NGOs from the country.
“What occurred on Sunday was a mockery of democracy, not a promotion of it,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “PM Hun Sen and the ruling CPP are fooling themselves if they think this compromised election victory gets them out of woods with the international community. The government systematically mobilised their officials and cronies to intimidate voters across the country.”
He added: “The reality is the forced dissolution of the CNRP in November 2017 ensured that this election could never be genuine, nor free and fair.”
Cambodia held its first free election in 1993 and has held elections regularly since, giving Hun Sen’s regime some sheen of democratic legitimacy and appeasing western donors and the UN who pumped money into the country. However, his crackdown on the opposition in this election was unprecedented in its breadth and the 19 small parties left in the running were either considered to be completely unviable or puppets for Hun Sen.
Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights said the elections were taking place in a “highly repressive political environment”.
Hun Sen used his final pre-election speech on Friday to issue a warning. “Those who do not go to vote, and who are incited by the national traitors, are the ones who destroy democracy,” he said. There were also multiple reports of tactics of intimidation being used by the CPP, with people in factories threatened with losing their jobs and threats that people would have water and electricity cut off, or even be evicted from their homes by local authorities, if they did not vote. It was ultimately effective, with voter turnout reported by the government to be 82.71%, far higher than in the 2013 election.
Sam Rainsy, the exiled leader of the CNRP who ran against Hun Sen in the 2013 election, described it as a “hollow” victory for the CPP.
“For the first time in the 25 years since the elections organised by the United Nations in 1993, Cambodia lacks a legitimate government recognised by the international community.”
July 2018
The criminalisation of civil society and political opposition in Cambodia, by Alice Beban, Laura Schoenberger. (Open Democracy)
In Cambodia, political violence in the run-up to the 2018 general election signals a move away from an explicitly populist authoritarianism towards a deeper authoritarianism.
Cambodia burst onto global news headlines in late 2017 when the Supreme Court dissolved the main opposition party, but behind this political spectacle lay a series of smaller legal changes, political violence and geopolitical shifts that set the stage for the turn to deeper authoritarian rule.
For more than thirty years, the world’s longest serving Prime Minister has been the archetypal populist strongman. He and his party (the Cambodian People’s Party, or CPP) combine terror and censorship with personalised political handouts, promises of post-war stability, and a veneer of democracy.
This regime depends on funds channelled through networks of political and business elite who are awarded land and mineral concessions in return for donations to the ruling party. At the same time as rural areas have become ‘sacrifice zones’ for the enrichment of domestic and international elite, rural voters have long been the most consistent and reliable supporters of Hun Sen’s government.
In Cambodia’s post-genocidal context, many rural people crave the stability and the ‘gift giving’ that Hun Sen’s regime has provided. This has allowed the party to marginalize opposition and build an elaborate system of mass patronage and mobilization.
But in the past decade, land grabbing and logging have had serious impacts and rural people have become more outspoken and connected with disaffected urban voters. The 2013 national election was the ruling party’s worst outcome since 1998, with a united opposition (the CNRP) winning 44% of the vote. Strikes erupted in the aftermath of the election and persisted for half the year until military police shot dead five protesters.
Then, in the June 2017 sub-national (‘Commune’) elections, the CNRP shocked the ruling party by winning almost half the popular vote and gaining 482 commune seats, up from a mere 40 seats in the previous election. This was a wake-up call that the CPP were at risk of being unseated in the 2018 National Election. After the commune elections, the ruling party stepped-up press censorship, extra-judicial violence and threats of military intervention.
A series of quiet law changes have facilitated the criminalisation of civil society and political opposition. The Law on NGOs and Associations limits the ability for people to gather without registering with the Ministry of Interior and increases surveillance of NGOs. Amendments to the Law on Political Parties led to the resignation of long-time leader of the opposition, Sam Rainsy, in February 2017. Further legal moves that year introduced legislation that allowed the government to easily disband political parties, which was used to shut down the main opposition party eight months later.
The media is also targeted; changes to the national media code enabled the government to shut down 19 independent radio stations as well as the long-running newspaper The Cambodia Daily. By late 2017, with critical media outlets silenced and activists fearful of open protests, the way was opened for the government to launch an outright attack on the political opposition. Just after midnight on Sunday 3 September (the day before shutting the Daily), over one hundred armed soldiers broke into CNRP leader Kem Sokha’s house and detained him without warning. He was later charged with treason.
In November, the Supreme Court dissolved the opposition party, re-assigning its seats and banning 118 individuals from political activities for five years. In February 2018, the National Assembly passed Thai-style Lèse majesté laws that forbid insults to the monarchy, along with a series of vague changes to the Cambodian Constitution, including a change that would allow the permanent removal of voting rights for convicted felons.
As the CPP close media outlets and attack opposition parties, they are also bolstering their own propaganda machine. The Phnom Penh Post was slapped with a phony tax bill and sold off in May 2018 to a CPP-aligned businessman who has claimed full editorial approval, causing the editor in chief and key journalists to quit to maintain integrity.
The state news app, “Fresh News”, spreads pro-government propaganda across Facebook and other state-run media. New pro-government research institutions, a ‘spy school’ to develop surveillance technologies, and the creation of an inter-ministerial working group to produce anti-opposition propaganda are being used to justify state violence.
Cambodia has been emboldened by the rise of China’s infrastructural support outflanking western donor funds to Cambodia, and Trump’s near-total disengagement on Southeast Asia, coupled with his own attacks on US media. Hun Sen has seized upon people’s latent anti-western sentiment, aggressively deploying ‘us/them’ rhetoric to draw suspicion over the opposition party and western-funded media and NGOs.
What we see in Cambodia currently is the failure of a populism built on the backs of natural resource rents. Support for the government has broken down as the population grows tired of naked resource extraction, cronyism and inequality.
We won’t know until the July 2018 elections and its aftermath whether this radical redrawing of the Cambodian political landscape is a short-term crackdown prior to the 2018 election, or a ‘new normal’ of naked authoritarianism.
We do know that what is happening is truly bad. In late 2017, we interviewed fifteen journalists who work with rural communities. They told us repeatedly about the pervasive loss people are experiencing in the wake of the crackdown: loss of media’s potential to hold the political elite accountable; loss of rural people’s voice; and loss of hope for rural social movements. Journalists were especially critical of what is left: social media platforms that authoritarian actors can easily co-opt to reshape what is considered ‘news’. From the journalists’ vantage point, the closure of independent media has left rural people “in the dark… their voice is lost”.
However, rural activists and networks of farmers throughout the Cambodian countryside are resilient and creative; they show that there is potential for things to be otherwise. The darkness is not total.
* Alice Beban is a Lecturer in Sociology at Massey University in New Zealand, Laura Schoenberger is Banting Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Ottawa. This article is part of a Open Democracy series on ‘confronting authoritarian populism and the rural world’, and linked to the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI):


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