European Parliament Condemns Hun Sen’s Rights Abuses in Cambodia in ‘Stunning Rebuke’

The European Union has slammed Cambodia’s government for human rights abuses including violence against peaceful protesters, the harassment and intimidation of rights defenders, and the jailing of political opponents on “politically motivated” charges, urging targeted sanctions against officials.

The March 11 statement by the EU’s European Parliament in particular condemned the recent trials in absentia of key members of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which saw acting party chief Sam Rainsy and eight other senior party leaders sentenced on March 1 to prison terms ranging from 20 to 25 years for attempting to “overthrow the government.”

The sentenced opposition figures had been tried by Cambodia’s state-controlled judiciary in absentia, “as they were not allowed to return to Cambodia to defend themselves in court,” the EU said.

The European Parliament’s statement follows a move by the EU in August 2020 to suspend tariff-free access to its market under the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme for around one-fifth of Cambodia’s exports, citing rollbacks in Cambodia on democracy and human rights.

The suspension is expected to result in a loss of around U.S. $1.1 billion of the country’s annual $5.8 billion in exports to the EU, some 75 percent of which is made up of clothing and textiles—a crucial industry in Cambodia that employs one million people.

Under Prime Minister Hun Sen, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) since 2017 has undertaken “a series of repressive actions curtailing political participation and electoral rights in the country, moving away from the path towards democracy and creating an authoritarian state,” the European Parliament said.

Cambodia is now a “one-party state with no parliamentary opposition,” the EU resolution said, adding that national elections held in Cambodia in 2018 were neither free nor fair and that the CPP “should not be considered the legitimate ruling party of Cambodia.”

Targeted sanctions—including travel bans and asset freezes—should now be imposed against key Cambodian politicians and leaders of security forces believed “responsible for serious human rights violations,” the EU said, and an Asia-Europe Meeting Summit scheduled to be held later this year in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh should not take place in Cambodia “unless democracy is restored.”

‘Yet more interference’

Sok Ey San, spokesperson for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, condemned the European Parliament’s resolution on Friday as “yet more interference” in the Cambodian government’s affairs.

“This is only the EU Parliament,” Sok Ey San told RFA’s Khmer Service. “It does not represent the world, so we should have the UN Security Council and UN General Assembly resolve this issue.”

“The EU Parliament would be better off thinking about how to help its people during the COVID-19 pandemic than trying to figure things out for Cambodia,” he said.

Eng Chhai Eang—deputy president of the opposition CNRP—said however that the European Parliament’s resolution has now hurt the image of Hun Sen’s government on the world stage, adding that he supports the resolution’s call for the ruling party and its opposition to engage in talks to promote national reconciliation.

“Dialogue will never threaten the interests of the nation or its people. There can be no solution without it,” he said.

Also speaking to RFA, Cambodian political analyst Kim Sok—now living in exile in Finland—said that this week’s statement by the European Parliament shows that the EU has not abandoned the cause of democracy in Cambodia.

“The EU still wants breathing space for democracy in Cambodia,” Kim Sok said.

In a statement Friday, Phil Robertson—Deputy Asia Director for Human Rights Watch—called the European Parliament’s March 11 resolution “an absolutely stunning rebuke to Cambodia for its appalling human rights record.”

“In passing this resolution, MEPs showed strong support for a more muscular EU foreign policy to demand Cambodia end these political trials, release imprisoned activists, restore the opposition CNRP party, and stop attacks against civil society groups, human rights defenders and independent media,” Robertson said.

“The European Parliament resolution is a very welcome ray of sunshine that pierces the growing darkness cast over the country by Hun Sen’s single-party dictatorship.”

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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