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Rights groups call on Cambodia to implement UN body recommendations on enforced disappearance

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF), and Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) urge Cambodian authorities to implement without delay the recommendations recently made by a United Nations (UN) body to address and resolve cases of enforced disappearances in the country.

The UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) made its recommendations to the Cambodian government on 5 March 2024, following the review of Cambodia’s first report under Article 29 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), which was held on 19-20 February 2024 in Geneva, Switzerland. The CED monitors state parties’ compliance with their legal obligations under the ICPPED. Cambodia is a state party to this treaty.

In its Concluding Observations, the CED expressed concern over numerous instances of Cambodia’s lack of compliance, in law and practice, with the provisions of the ICPPED. For example, the CED expressed concern over Cambodia’s inadequate and insufficient legal framework to ensure that allegations of enforced disappearances are properly investigated, and to guarantee the right of the disappeared persons’ relatives to participate actively in the proceedings, as illustrated in the cases of Khem Sophath, a Cambodian boy, and Wanchalearm Satsaksit, a Thai activist.

The CED recommended that all disappeared persons are “searched for without delay,” and that all allegations of enforced disappearance, including the cases of Khem Sophath and Wanchalearm Satsaksit, are investigated “promptly, thoroughly, effectively and impartially.” The CED further recommended the Cambodian authorities guarantee that the relatives and representatives of the disappeared persons, including the families of Khem Sophath and Wanchalearm Satsaksit, “can participate in the search and investigation at all stages of the proceedings” and that they are “regularly informed of the progress and results of the ongoing investigation.”

On 27 February 2024, a government spokesperson told media that authorities had completed the investigation into the case of Wanchalearm Satsaksit – who had disappeared in June 2020 in Phnom Penh — and “filed the report” to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. No details about the report were disclosed and the Court failed to inform Mr. Wanchalearm’s lawyers and family members of this development.

The CED also addressed the issue of enforced disappearances in the context of transnational repression of activists, such as the case of Wanchalearm Satsaksit. The CED expressed concern by reports on the lack of cooperation with the disappeared persons’ state of nationality to assist the victims in searching for, locating, and releasing the disappeared persons, and by allegations of “authorities in the region failing to adequately investigate cases of cross-border disappearances.” The CED recommended Cambodian authorities “actively contribute to strengthening cooperation between the judicial authorities of the countries in the region” to facilitate the sharing of information and evidence, searching for, and identifying disappeared persons, conducting investigations, and bringing those responsible to justice.

The CED requested the Cambodian government to submit, by 1 March 2027, “specific and updated” information on the implementation of its recommendations and any other new information on the fulfilment of the obligations contained in the ICPPED.

The CED findings and recommendations reflected many of those presented by FIDH, CrCF, and TLHR in the joint submission they made to the CED ahead of its review of Cambodia.

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