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UN Rights Envoy Meets With Union Leaders

U.N. special rapporteur Surya Subedi walks through a Cambodian national flag upon his arrival in a conference room at the U.N. headquarter in Phnom Penh, in 2010.

The UN’s special envoy for human rights met with union leaders on Monday, including representatives for garment factory workers and teachers, who pointed out concerns in basic rights like education and assembly, officials said.

Surya Subedi, the human rights special representative for the UN secretary-general, is on a 10-day mission that ends later this week.

Union leaders discussed with him with their main concerns as he drafts a report for the UN Human Rights Council, said Rong Chhun, president of the Independent Teachers Association.

Education and assembly were among the main concerns, he said.

People lack access to education, including a lack of schools and low salaries for teachers, Rong Chhun said. Impoverished children also are often unable to go to school, which affects their right to education, he said.

Leaders also pointed to difficulties for unions to assemble workers under strict laws or even hold meetings, after restaurant or other venue owners receive threats from local authorities, Rong Chhun said.

Rong Chhun also said new draft law on unions is restrictive on union leaders, including regulations that make it easy for unions to be banned by the Ministry of Interior. A draft law on NGOs is similarly worrying, he said, in that it could restrict the operations of non-government organizations.

Representatives also told Subedi that were concerned about the murders of labor leaders and the arrests of suspects that are not likely the perpetrators.

Subedi has also met with senior government leaders, opposition parties and rights groups on his trip.

In talks with Prime Minister Hun Sen Thursday, Subedi brought a proposal from 300 NGOs requesting a “dialogue” between the groups and the government, said Ieng Sophalleth, a spokesman for the prime minister.

Hun Sen declined the proposal, saying there are “3,000 local NGOs,” and a request from 300 “did not represent the majority,” Ieng Sophalleth said.

Subedi also spoke to Hun Sen about court reform. Hun Sen said the government does not interfere with the court and is working to improve the judiciary.

Last week, Subedi also met with 20 local NGOs, who outlined their own worries.

Chak Sopheap, executive assistant for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said local groups raised concerns about rights abuses, land grabs, freedom of expression and the courts.

“Freedom of expression in Cambodia is still barred by the government,” she said, including the freedom to hold demonstrations or strikes.