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Interview: ‘There Will be Consequences’ For Cambodia And The Ruling Party

As the executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division since 2002, Brad Adams oversees the organization’s work on human rights issues in twenty countries, including Cambodia. At Human Rights Watch, he has worked on a wide range of issues including freedom of expression, protection of civil society and human rights defenders, counterterrorism, refugees, gender and religious discrimination and armed conflict.

Prior to Human Rights Watch, Adams worked in Cambodia for five years as the senior lawyer for the Cambodia field office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and as the legal advisor to the Cambodian parliament’s human rights committee.

He recently spoke with RFA journalist Sok Ry Sum by telephone to discuss Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bid to dissolve the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) ahead of general elections scheduled for July 2018. The following is an edited version of that interview.

Hun Sen is staging a “cold coup” right now. In 1997, he did a military coup—a “hot coup”—where he killed so many people in the opposition, so many members of [royalist party] Funcinpec, and forced all sorts of people into exile, including members of parliament—[CNRP president] Kem Sokha and other people. Now he’s engaging in a “cold coup.” He’s not using the same amount of violence, but he’s using every state institution to overthrow the constitution … to overthrow the Paris Peace Agreement, and to overthrow the 2013 elections and the 2017 commune elections. All these people who were elected are now having their positions taken away from them. And that doesn’t just hurt those people—those members of parliament and those commune officials—it’s basically telling the voters that their vote doesn’t matter and he’s throwing their votes into the toilet. The outcome is no different than if he simply had the military stage a coup, like he did in 1997.

The international community—after the CNRP is dissolved, after he gives [the CNRP’s parliamentary] seats to Funcinpec and other parties—is going to decide that the 2018 elections are illegitimate and meaningless. They will not recognize them as real elections, and that will lead to all sorts of sanctions and other consequences for Cambodia and for the [ruling Cambodian People’s Party] CPP, and for the members of the army and police who carry out all of these human rights abuses for Hun Sen. And I fear it’s going to take the country back to the 1980s or the early 1990s when Cambodia was very isolated. Hun Sen seems to think he can rely only on China for the country’s future, but that won’t work. He should remember that one of the reasons the reform process started in [Myanmar] is that the [Myanmar] generals and government only could rely on China and the [Myanmar] people said “No, we are sick of that,” and the country fell apart economically. I don’t want that to happen to Cambodia—I think that would be very sad—but I think that’s the direction Hun Sen is taking it.

My concern is that the international reaction will come after the damage is done, not before the damage. So I think we certainly need a better response from the international community … When you nullify the last election results by giving the seats of other parties away and you make it impossible for there to be free and fair elections next year, there will be consequences. It may just take a while for them to happen.

There will be sanctions. Military relationships will be finished. He’s already temporarily stopped relations with the U.S., but other countries will not want to have any cooperation with the Cambodian military. There will be asset freezes of senior officials in the government. There will be travel bans on officials in the government, I think. There will be asset forfeitures of overseas property, I think you can predict that. There will possibly criminal cases filed against human rights abusers in the Cambodian government. There will be reduced economic assistance to the country, which I hope will not be targeted at the poor and the vulnerable, but sometimes governments just cut everything off. They might say, “Look, we can’t justify providing assistance to Cambodia when this kind of thing happens,” which I think would be bad for the average Cambodian person, but that’s just how governments work.

The CNRP has been an entirely non-violent, peaceful movement, and he keeps acting like it’s some kind of military threat. They don’t have a military. They’ve never said they had a military. They don’t engage in violence. He engages in violence. They engage in peaceful opposition. Hun Sen has now basically made it a crime to compete in the next election.

In the short term, Hun Sen is getting what he wants. He’s dissolving the opposition party, many members of the opposition are leaving, some members of the opposition are disagreeing with each other. But if a person has guns, an army, the police, and the gendarmerie, and the other person only has words, it’s pretty easy to do that. The problem is that it just means that Hun Sen becomes completely illegitimate. He can’t be taken seriously as a legitimate prime minister of a legitimate government. So it harms himself too … Now Hun Sen is putting everything at risk. And I don’t think this is going to work in the long run. He can scare people right now, but I don’t think the Cambodian people are going to just sit still and accept this.

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Cambodia’s Hun Sen Defends Arrest of Opposition Chief, Slams US-backed ‘Revolt’

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday defended the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha on charges of treason and further accused the U.S. of trying to topple his government amid international condemnation of an ongoing crackdown in the country ahead of an election set for next year.

Speaking to more than 15,000 factory workers in the capital Phnom Penh as part of a bid to earn the trust of voters in the lead up to a July 2018 general election, Hun Sen said he had acted in defense of the nation by arresting Kem Sokha and threatened to continue detaining members of his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) until the party is eliminated.

The prime minister suggested that a January 2014 strike by garment workers in Phnom Penh over wages that was broken up when police shot and killed four people had been engineered by the opposition party—which made substantial gains in the country’s general election the previous year—at the behest of Washington.

“[The CNRP] used to chant ‘Step Down Hun Sen’ and you created a movement that caused the deaths of several people on Veng Sreng Street,” he said, referring to the area of the capital where the strike took place.

“Was that an act of respect of the people’s will or a revolt backed by a foreign power to instigate another war in Cambodia?”

On Monday, the National Assembly approved four amendments to the country’s electoral law, despite a boycott by the parliament’s 55 CNRP lawmakers, paving the way for their seats to be redistributed to smaller government-aligned parties in the event that the opposition party is dissolved.

Cambodia’s Senate Committee will convene on Thursday to review the amendments. The senate will send the amendments, with any proposed changes, back to parliament’s Constitutional Council which, after further review, will forward them on to King Norodom Sihamoni for final approval.

Hun Sen’s comments apparently referred to a statement Tuesday by CNRP lawmakers, who called the approval of the amendments by ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) members of parliament an “abuse of power … [and] the will of the people.”

The prime minister reminded the CNRP that “you were defeated” in 2013’s elections, “yet you have not abandoned your bad intentions.”

Arrest for ‘treason’

He also defended the Sept. 3 arrest of Kem Sokha, who has been charged with “treason” for collaborating with the U.S. to overthrow the CPP, in a move critics say shows Hun Sen is intensifying his attacks on political opponents ahead of next year’s ballot.

The evidence presented against Kem Sokha so far is a video recorded in 2013 in which he discusses a strategy to win power with the help of U.S. experts, though the U.S. embassy has rejected any suggestion that Washington is interfering in Cambodian politics.

“You may ask me why Kem Sokha has just been arrested for a speech he made several years ago,” Hun Sen said.

“It’s not about when to carry out the arrest, but about how relevant the evidence regarding his speech was. It’s about the consistency of his speech and his acts,” he added.

“The search is underway. When the evidence is well established and consistent, not only Kem Sokha will be liable for the crime, but the entire opposition party shall be dissolved.”

Hun Sen also took aim at the U.S. for carrying out a secret bombing campaign within Cambodia from 1969-1970 in a bid to wipe out safe havens for Communist Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War, accusing Washington of maintaining a double standard for accusing his government of human rights abuses.

“More cases of victims affected by the bombs have since been found, and this was a tragedy caused by a foreign power,” he said.

“The children of the villagers in the affected areas have birth defects … [When the U.S.] dropped millions of tons of bombs on us, did you ever think about human rights and democracy?  Now we have to set up centers to treat people who have been affected by the radiation leaked from those bombs.”

International criticism

Hun Sen’s comments came as a group of organizations, including New York-based Human Rights Watch, held a press conference in Bangkok, calling on the international community to prevent Cambodia from abandoning democracy.

Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, called for sanctions against Cambodia in response to the ongoing crackdown in the country, and urged governments to withdraw technical assistance for the country’s elections next year if the CNRP is dissolved.

“Quite clearly we’re on the cusp of losing another democracy in the world,” Roberston said, adding that Washington “has essentially stood by and allowed it to happen.”

“Hun Sen is looking around, he’s seeing very little comment from the international community, and for him that’s a green light to continue the repression.”

Also on Wednesday, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) expressed “deep concern” about what it termed the “increasing repression and escalation of human rights violations against opposition MPs” in Cambodia on the closing day of the 137th IPU Assembly in St. Petersburg, Russia.

In a statement, the IPU called for fact-finding missions by its Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians to be sent to Cambodia, as well as to Venezuela, Turkey, and the Maldives, in the near future.

The IPU dismissed the use of the 2013 video as evidence of treason against Kem Sokha, demanding that he be immediately released and allowed to resume his duties as a parliamentarian and the president of the opposition.

It also urged Cambodian authorities to allow for the return of opposition MPs who had been forced into exile so that they could campaign freely ahead of the 2018 election.

Since Kem Sokha’s arrest, some 20 CNRP lawmakers, along with deputy presidents Mu Sochua and Eng Chhay Eang and a number of party activists, have fled Cambodia fearing retaliation by the CPP following important electoral gains by the opposition in June’s commune ballot, which are seen as pointing to a strong showing in next year’s vote.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Cambodia’s Opposition Condemns Efforts to Confiscate Parliament Seats

Cambodia’s opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) on Tuesday condemned a set of amendments that would end its representation in the National Assembly, calling them “unconstitutional” and calling for international intervention to reverse the legislation.

On Monday, the National Assembly, or parliament, approved four amendments to the country’s electoral law, paving the way for the 55 seats held by CNRP lawmakers to be redistributed to smaller government-aligned parties in the event that the opposition party is dissolved.

In a statement Tuesday, CNRP lawmakers—all of whom boycotted the session—called the approval by ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) members of parliament an “abuse of power … [and] the will of the people.”

The lawmakers dismissed the amendments as violations of Articles 51 and 76 of the constitution, which state that Cambodia’s citizens control the fate of their nation, and that members of parliament be elected through free, fair, and secret ballots.

They appealed to all national institutions with legislative authority to “review and consider the will of the Cambodian people, who respect the constitution as the supreme law of the land,” and urged the international community to reconsider its relationship with the country’s “illegitimate rulers.”

The statement asserted that, by boycotting the approval of the amendments, the CNRP’s lawmakers remained legal parliamentary representatives of the people, while opposition members elected in June’s commune ballot are also still operating in an official capacity.

Monday’s parliamentary session, which was attended by Prime Minister Hun Sen, involved no debate and took less than two hours to approve the amendments, which would see the royalist Funcinpec party take 41 seats from the opposition should the CNRP be outlawed ahead of a general election slated for next year.

According to the new laws, the League for Democracy Party (LDP) would receive six of the CNRP’s seats, the Khmer Anti-Poverty Party (KAPP) would receive five, the Cambodian Nationality Party (CNP) would assume two seats, and the Khmer Economic Development Party (KEDP) would be given one seat.

Cheam Yeap, a senior CPP member of parliament who represents the bloc of lawmakers that proposed the legislation, has said that the amendments were a byproduct of Cambodia’s electoral maturation process and not intended to target any one party.

On Tuesday, the National Assembly sent the approved amendments to Cambodia’s Senate Committee, which will review them over the next five days. The senate will send the amendments, with any proposed changes, back to parliament’s Constitutional Council which, after further review, will forward them on to King Norodom Sihamoni for final approval.

Earlier this month, Cambodian government lawyers submitted a petition to the country’s Supreme Court, asking that it formally dissolve the CNRP, and laying the groundwork for the amendments.

The move followed the Sept. 3 arrest of CNRP leader Kem Sokha in the capital Phnom Penh and formal accusations against him of collaborating with the U.S. to topple Cambodia’s government, in a move critics say shows Hun Sen is intensifying his attacks on political opponents ahead of national elections scheduled for July 2018.

Criticism of amendments

In a statement Tuesday, the U.S. State Department said that, if ratified, the amendments “would effectively disenfranchise the millions of people who voted for the CNRP in the 2013 and 2017 elections.”

“Genuine competition is essential to democracy and to the legitimacy of the 2018 national elections,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said.

“We urge government officials to consider the serious implications of their recent actions. We renew our call that the leader of the CNRP, Kem Sokha, be released from prison.”

The amendments also drew condemnation from a consortium of indigenous ethnic groups in northeast Cambodia’s Mondulkiri province, which said in a statement Tuesday that the CPP was “jeopardizing unity” in the country.

Kreung Tola, a representative of the group, told RFA’s Khmer Service that if the CNRP’s seats are confiscated, it would amount to “robbing the people of their will.”

“The National Assembly of Cambodia is Ike a robber who violates the rule of law,” he said.

He warned that the country’s indigenous communities are considering a boycott of the 2018 election if the CNRP is dissolved.

Sok Ratha, a coordinator for the rights group Adhoc in Mondulkiri province, told RFA that amendments to Cambodia’s electoral law can only be carried out if doing so benefits the people and improves political participation for the country’s opposition parties.

“Legislative changes from a single-party vote in the National Assembly would be counter to the interests of the people and the entire nation,” he said, adding that the amendments “will undermine the democratic process ahead of the national election in 2018.”

San Chey, the executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability (ANSA), on Tuesday urged parliament to revise the amendments with greater attention paid to the concerns of the people, saying allowing them to be ratified in their current state would cause the international community to shun Cambodia.

“The rejection of the government’s legitimacy by the international community will cause great harm to us by [driving off] major donors and investment,” he said.

If powerful countries, such as the U.S., enact economic sanctions against Cambodia, it will have a devastating impact on the living conditions of the people, he added.

Military threats

Also on Tuesday, Cambodia’s defense minister Tea Bahn vowed to use the military to “smash any individuals who create social unrest” if the CNRP is dissolved, and said the country’s soldiers are prepared to “destroy anyone who dares to confront law enforcement,” according to local media reports.

Social commentator Meas Nee told RFA that Tea Bahn’s comments had hurt the moral standing of Cambodia’s military and lessened the people’s respect for the country’s Ministry of Defense.

“It is dangerous for Cambodia when the military is no longer independent,” he said, adding that soldiers have an obligation to protect national sovereignty and integrity.

“This could lead Cambodian politics into a very fragile situation.”

In May, ahead of Cambodia’s commune elections, Tea Banh warned that the army would “smash the teeth” of anyone protesting a win by the CPP and quickly suppress any opposition protests like those that followed the CNRP’s loss in national elections in 2013.

Failing health

Meanwhile, senior CNRP official Sam Sok Kong told RFA Tuesday that Kem Sokha’s health is “rapidly worsening” as a result of the unhygienic conditions of his jail cell in Tbong Khmum province’s remote Trapeang Phlong prison.

“His family has brought medicine for him, but the guards restrict medicine brought from outside,” he said, adding that Kem Sokha has also lacked access to proper health examinations.

The CNRP chief has been carefully monitoring developments on his party’s situation, despite his health concerns, Sam Sok Kong said, and believes the recently approved amendments are “unacceptable.”

“[Kem Sokha] said the amendments firstly abuse the people’s will, which is guaranteed protection in the constitution, and secondly violate the constitution, which is the supreme law of the land,” he said.

“Regarding dissolving the CNRP, Kem Sokha said he won’t need any lawyers, because the whole thing is politically motivated.”

Since Kem Sokha’s arrest, some 20 CNRP lawmakers, along with deputy presidents Mu Sochua and Eng Chhay Eang and a number of party activists, have fled Cambodia fearing retaliation by the CPP following important electoral gains by the opposition in June’s commune ballot, which are seen as pointing to a strong showing in next year’s vote.

Reported by Nareth Muong and Sarada Taing for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Cambodia Approves Laws to Distribute Opposition Parliamentary Seats to Government-Aligned Parties

Cambodia’s National Assembly on Monday approved four amendments to the country’s electoral law, paving the way for 55 seats held by opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmakers to be redistributed to smaller government-aligned parties in the event that it is dissolved.

The parliamentary session, which was boycotted by all CNRP lawmakers and attended by Prime Minister Hun Sen, involved no debate and took less than two hours to approve the amendments, which would see the royalist Funcinpec party take 41 seats from the opposition should the CNRP be outlawed ahead of a general election slated for next year.

According to the new laws, the League for Democracy Party (LDP) would receive six of the CNRP’s seats, the Khmer Anti-Poverty Party (KAPP) would receive five, the Cambodian Nationality Party (CNP) would assume two seats, and the Khmer Economic Development Party (KEDP) would be given one seat.

Minutes before they were passed, Cheam Yeap, a senior member of parliament with Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) who represents the bloc of lawmakers that proposed the legislation, told reporters that the amendments were a byproduct of Cambodia’s electoral maturation process and not intended to target any one party.

“The amendments are commensurate with the rapid evolution of the national, regional, and international political contexts,” he said, adding that the laws “will fill in the gaps of some relevant legal principles and existing laws, and promote the rule of law.”

“The four proposed amendments of the four laws are not meant to destroy an individual or political party.”

Earlier this month, Cambodian government lawyers submitted a petition to the country’s Supreme Court, asking that it formally dissolve the CNRP.

The move followed the Sept. 3 arrest of CNRP leader Kem Sokha in the capital Phnom Penh and formal accusations against him of treason, in a move critics say shows Hun Sen is intensifying his attacks on political opponents ahead of national elections scheduled for July 2018.

Cheam Yeap said Monday that “evidence” shows Kem Sokha “received orders from foreigners, whom he treated as his leaders, to sabotage the nation and annihilate the Cambodian People’s Party,” and that ruling party lawmakers proposed the legislation as protection against the CNRP chief’s “treacherous activities and future plots to harm the nation and the people.”

Since Kem Sokha’s arrest, some 20 CNRP lawmakers, along with deputy presidents Mu Sochua and Eng Chhay Eang and a number of party activists, have fled Cambodia fearing retaliation by the CPP following important electoral gains by the opposition in June’s commune ballot, which are seen as pointing to a strong showing in next year’s vote.

One deputy president, who has yet to return to Cambodia, told RFA’s Khmer Service that the amendments approved Monday are “illegal” and an attempt by the CPP to “avoid being seen as [ruling] a one-party state.”

“It’s like they are adjusting a head to fit a hat, rather than the other way around,” the deputy president said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The ruling party didn’t amend the laws to take all the CNRP’s seats for themselves, and instead would give them to minor parties. I treat that as an act of robbery of the will of the constituents.”

The deputy president said that there is “no longer rule of law in Cambodia,” and that “Hun Sen is the law now … [as] whatever he says goes.”

“However, I do not think the people will tolerate such oppression for too long—tyrants will not prevail.”

Critical reactions

The approval of the amendments also drew criticism from rights organizations, legal watchdog groups, and members of the public, who suggested Cambodia’s laws were being manipulated to benefit the ruling party.

Adhoc president Thun Saray, who has been living outside of Cambodia since May 2016 following threats of arrest for intervening in criminal charges against five officials from his rights group, said the latest development in parliament showed the country was “straying too far” from the path of democracy and called for political leaders to resume dialogue to reduce political tension.

“Cambodia is sliding into an eventual disaster and the past [difficulties of the Khmer Rouge regime] will repeat itself if Cambodian leaders don’t return to democratic competition through free and fair elections,” he said.

“The desire to win power without considering the great damage to the national interest would lead this country and its people into tragedy.”

Sok Sam Oeun, chief attorney of the AMRIN Law and Consultants Group, condemned what he called “politically motivated” amendments that he said the CPP is trying to make appear legitimate.

“As long as the amendments are passed, they become laws, but they are politically motivated,” he said.

A law student in Phnom Penh, who asked to remain unnamed, told RFA that he was disappointed by ruling party parliamentarians “shamelessly passing laws to rob the CNRP of its seats.”

“I am very disturbed—it’s like a group of criminals are harassing a vulnerable victim,” he said.

“They are robbing him of his property and giving it to others.”

Open letter

Also on Monday, former CNRP president Sam Rainsy, who resigned in February in order to preserve the party in the face of a law that bars anyone convicted of a crime from holding the top offices in a political party, published an open letter in the Phnom Penh Post calling for international pressure on Hun Sen’s government to preserve the opposition party and its representation in parliament.

Addressing representatives of the world’s 173 parliaments at the Inter-Parliamentary Union underway in St. Petersburg, Sam Rainsy said from self-imposed exile in Paris that the possible dissolution of the CNRP “constitutes a grave breach of Cambodia’s commitment to democracy.”

“As a representative of the Cambodian people elected and re-elected since 1993, and a former leader of the opposition in forced exile, I respectfully ask for the support of the world’s parliamentarians to help their elected colleagues in the CNRP and defend the very principle of parliamentary representation,” his letter read.

Sam Rainsy has been living in exile since 2015 to avoid convictions many see as politically motivated.

Last week, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) called the ruling party-proposed amendments to allot the CNRP’s National Assembly seats “a brazen attempt to legitimize a wholly undemocratic move: giving positions at all levels of government to parties who, instead of earning the vote of the people, sold their loyalties to the CPP.”

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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ASEAN MPs Slam Moves to Destroy Cambodian Opposition Party

Southeast Asian lawmakers warned on Friday against Cambodian government plans to redistribute parliamentary seats belonging to the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party, calling the threatened move an attack on multiparty democracy in the politically troubled country.

In an Oct. 13 statement, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) noted with alarm a proposal made on Thursday by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to allot the CNRP’s seats in parliament to smaller government-aligned political parties in the event the opposition party is dissolved.

“These new amendments are a brazen attempt to legitimize a wholly undemocratic move: giving positions at all levels of government to parties who, instead of earning the vote of the people, sold their loyalties to the CPP,” APHR chairperson and Malaysian parliamentarian Charles Santiago said.

“The ruling party wants to be able to argue that Cambodia remains a multiparty democracy, but no one should be fooled,” Santiago said.

The arrest in early September of CNRP leader Kem Sokha on treason charges had already revealed Prime Minister Hun Sen’s intentions to eliminate the most effective political opposition to his continued rule, Santiago said.

Now, the amendments proposed on Thursday represent “yet another slap in the face to the 44 percent of Cambodians who voted for the CNRP in 2013 and deserve to be represented by those they elected,” he said.

Cambodian government lawyers last week submitted a petition to the country’s Supreme Court, asking that it formally dissolve the CNRP.

The five lawyers representing the ruling CPP said the petition was based on complaints filed recently by the leaders of two smaller rival parties, Pich Sros of the Cambodian Youth Party and Prince Norodom Ranariddh of Funcinpec.

The request followed other recent government moves to destroy Cambodia’s most effective political opposition to Hun Sen’s 32-year rule. The CNRP’s performance in local elections in June was seen as pointing to a strong showing in next year’s general election.

Living in fear

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, a resident in the capital Phnom Penh voiced concern this week over the threatened dissolution of the CNRP and redistribution of its legislative seats.

“I voted for the CNRP. I didn’t vote for other parties like Funcinpec or the party belonging to Pich Sros,” the resident said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Seats in the National Assembly are seats won by popular vote. They are not like seats in karaoke parlors that can be used by anyone.”

“As a supporter of the CNRP, I am now living in fear as I can’t openly discuss anything related to politics,” a resident of Cambodia’s Kratie province said, also speaking to RFA.

“No one dares to say anything! If the CNRP is dissolved, our Cambodia will be in trouble,” he said.

“Our country is marching toward authoritarianism,” a Buddhist monk in Battambang province added. “If the CNRP is dissolved, it will be hard to find another opposition group to replace it.”

A sovereign state

In a text message sent to reporters on Friday, CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan meanwhile rejected international criticism of his party’s recent moves against the opposition.

“Cambodia is a sovereign state that enjoys full rights in managing her own affairs,” Sok Eysan wrote.

“Any demands for the release of the opposition leader and the withdrawal of complaints to dissolve the opposition party are nothing short of an attempt to nurture a culture of impunity in lieu of the rule of law,” he wrote.

“I would ask foreign governments and international organizations to respect Cambodia’s independence and sovereignty and refrain from interfering in her internal affairs,” he wrote.

If the CNRP is dissolved and its seats given away, “the result will be one-party rule in Cambodia,” the APHR said in its Oct. 13 statement, however.

“Anyone who thinks genuine, participatory, and inclusive elections are still possible in 2018 under these circumstances is gravely mistaken.”

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo and Nareth Muong. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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Hun Sen Moving Toward One-Party Rule, UN Envoy warns

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen is moving his country toward one-party rule, a special U.N. envoy suggested Thursday, warning that civil and political rights in Cambodia are deteriorating rapidly, with deeply worrying implications for forthcoming elections and the future of democracy in the country.

The warning by Rhona Smith, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia, came as the Interior Ministry launched legal proceedings to dissolve the key Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and is attempting to strip the party of its existing seats in parliament.

CNRP leader Kem Sokha was thrown in jail last month after being accused of treason, charges he denies and says are politically motivated. Almost half the CNRP’s 55 members of parliament have left the country following the leader’s arrest.

Almost all domestically-broadcast media are now under government control.

“Modern Cambodia was established as a multi-party liberal democracy, respectful and protective of human rights,” she said. “Its Constitution sought to prevent a return to a single-party state. Those who drafted the Constitution were all too well aware of the consequences of one-party rule.”

Cambodia’s constitution was formulated following a set of Paris Peace Agreements, which brought an end to decades of conflict and violence in the country 26 years ago. A pillar of the constitution was liberal democracy,  

“For Cambodians to engage in open and serious political debate, the opposition must be allowed to exist and to function without fear or intimidation,” Smith said in a statement. “Democracy is about voice and choice. These moves risk leaving many Cambodians without either.”

She said any dissolution of the CNRP would affect Cambodians’ voice and choice at all levels of government, raising serious concerns about the representativeness of government, ahead of general elections due by July 2018.

‘Rule by law’

Smith was concerned that the government was carrying out these measures under the guise of the rule of law.

For example, the legal action against the CNRP,  launched in the Supreme Court last Friday, had been made possible by a series of amendments to the Law on Political Parties in March and July this year.

These created additional grounds for dissolving a party, some of which were broad and vague, she said.

Further legislative amendments tabled by Hun Sen’s Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) for discussion this week contain elaborate formulae to redistribute the seats of a dissolved party between other parties.

“If these changes were applied to the current situation, it would bring into serious question the political representation of a significant portion of Cambodians,” Smith said.

“Rule of law is about more than the mere application of laws. All laws must respect human rights and must reflect the principles of fairness, justice and public participation.  Otherwise, it becomes rule by law, not rule of law.”

At present, the CNRP holds 55 seats in the National Assembly, around 5,000 councilor positions at the commune level, nearly 800 provincial/municipal level councilor positions, and 11 senator positions through the Sam Rainsy Party, which combined with the former Human Rights Party in 2012 to form the CNRP.

Weakened opposition

Plans are afoot to distribute the CNRP’s seats to five political parties after its dissolution, which will invalidate nearly three million votes it had garned in the last elections. The five parties only received more than six percent of the popular vote in 2013 polls.

The spokesman for the National Assembly,  Leng Peng Long, told local media outlets that the four proposed amendments to election-related laws have been forwarded to the parliament’s expert committee after scrutiny by the Permanent Committee of the National Assembly.

He could not say when exactly these proposed amendments to the four election-related laws will be sent to the National Assembly floor for final debate and approval by lawmakers.

“I wish to state that should a party be dissolved, five other parties will assume its place. This means that [the National Assembly] will be transformed from two-party control to a five-party control. It will happen shortly in the future,” Hun Sen said recently.

CNRP vice-president Eng Chhay Eang told RFA’s Khmer Service on Wednesday that the three million Cambodians who had voted for CNRP would not stand still and allow the ruling party to do anything at will.

“It is normal that when the water level has reached the level equal to our nose, one will try to grasp anything so as to save one’s own life. They are trying to kill us; therefore, we cannot stand still and allow them to kill us easily,” he said.

“I trust that half of our country’s population who voted for the CNRP will also not agree to this. And the international [community] will not let a dictatorial leader do anything at will which may plunge Cambodia into its dark past,” Eng Chhay Eang said.

The Australian government, meanwhile, warned that any removal of the main opposition party would be a significant setback to democracy and would undermine a free, fair, and transparent national election in 2018.

“The Cambodian people’s resolute commitment to multiparty democracy was demonstrated by the high turnout and results of the June 2017 commune elections,” the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh said in a statement.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

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