Khmer News in En

US Senators in Resolution Urging Cambodia to End Crackdown on Opponents

Senior Republican and Democratic U.S. Senators introduced a resolution on Tuesday urging Prime Minister Hun Sen to “end all harassment and intimidation of Cambodia’s opposition” ahead of 2018 general elections and release opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha.

The resolution, co-written by Republican John McCain of Arizona and Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois, condemns recent anti-democratic measures seen as aimed at hobbling the opposition ahead of July 2018 polls, as well as a lost list of abuses during Hun Sen’s three decades in office, including five elections since 1991 that were “marked by fraud, intimidation, violence, and the government’s misuse of legal mechanisms to weaken opposition candidates and parties.”

“Despite decades of U.S. and international attention to promote a pluralistic and democratic system, the situation in Cambodia remains dire,” said McCain in a statement introducing the resolution.

“Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has ruled the country with impunity for over three decades and throughout his rule, Hun Sen has resorted to any and all means to suppress the legitimate political opposition, harass civil society, restrain the media environment, and deny the democratic aspirations of the Cambodian people. This resolution is critical to seeking justice and protecting the basic human rights and freedoms of the Cambodian people.”

“The deliberate undermining of democracy being perpetrated by the Cambodian government must stop,” said Senator Durbin. “We call on Prime Minister Hun Sen and the governing party to respect the rule of law, human rights, and basic democratic norms. The world is watching.”

The resolution urges the U.S. State and Treasury Departments to consider “placing all senior Cambodian government officials implicated in the abuses noted above” on a blacklist that prevents them from visiting the United States.

Among other demands, the resolution calls on Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party “to end all harassment and intimidation of Cambodia’s opposition and foster an environment where democracy can thrive and flourish” and “urges the Government of Cambodia to free Mr. Kem Sokha immediately and unconditionally.”

The measure also “calls on the Government of Cambodia to respect freedom of the press and the rights of its citizens to freely assemble, protest, and speak out against the government.”

CNRP leader Kem Sokha was arrested without a warrant in the capital Phnom Penh on Sept. 3 and accused of trying to topple the government with backing from Washington. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

Deputy president Mu Sochua escaped to Thailand on a flight from Phnom Penh on Tuesday ahead of warnings she would be arrested for conspiring with Kem Sokha to overthrow the Cambodian government.

Cambodia’s government has also expelled U.S.-funded NGO the National Democratic Institute (NDI), suspended some 20 radio stations that aired content by U.S. broadcasters Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, and targeted the English-language Cambodia Daily with a hefty tax bill, leading to the newspaper’s closure.

Speaking this week in Cambodia’s Siem Reap province, Hun Sen threatened further arrests of CNRP lawmakers and activists, saying the opposition party’s “treasonous activities” reflect coordination among a wider group.

The McCain-Durbin resolution warned Hun Sen that if he “mains the current restrictive and intimidating political environment, the United States Government will have no choice but to determine that the 2018 elections were not conducted freely or fairly because the results could not be an expression of the democratic will of the Cambodian people.

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Interview: 'Kem Sokha Must be Released'

Kem Monovithya, daughter of jailed Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha, tells reporter Nareth Muong of RFA’s Khmer Service in an Oct. 2, 2017 interview that she has been meeting with government officials and lawmakers in the U.S. and the EU to ask for their support in pressing for Kem Sokha’s release and creating the space for free and fair national elections in Cambodia next year.

RFA:  What is the significance of your meetings with EU and US officials?

Kem Monovithya:  I am very optimistic about those meetings. The governments of European countries have made it clear that an election that lacks participation by the main opposition party  will not be legitimate or recognized. They are also demanding Kem Sokha’s release and an open democratic space, including the lifting restrictions on independent media and civil society organizations.

RFA: What have you asked the international community to do to ensure that the current political situation returns to normalcy?

Kem Monovithya:  We would like them to continue monitoring the situation in Cambodia and push the government to change its attitude in a timely manner, as the national election will be held in July 2018. We need to make sure that things are back on a right track so that we can prepare for the election.  European countries and the U.S. can play a significant role in this.

RFA: Your father has been charged with conspiring with foreign powers to change the current regime through elections. Are you not afraid that you will also be implicated, because what you are doing is exactly what your father has been accused of doing?

Kem Monovithya:  Everyone in Cambodia is intimidated by Hun Sen and his ruling party. They can cause us trouble any time they want. Not only members of the CNRP are intimidated but also members of the CPP themselves do not feel secure. However, I hope the government will not label me an instigator of a color revolution for speaking with foreign countries to put pressure on the government to release my father. Absurdly, the democratic means the CNRP has been perusing are being called a color revolution. This has taken the entire world by surprise.

But I trust the international community knows the right things to do to help Cambodia. If any sanctions are imposed on the government, it will be because the government itself has provoked such measures. The Cambodian government is destroying peace, development, and democracy by persecuting the opposition party, the media, and civil society organizations. Any sour relations with foreign governments are being created by the Cambodian government itself.

RFA:  Why do you think Kem Sokha has been accused of treason?

Kem Monovithya:  I believe this accusation is personal and vindictive. Over the past three decades, leaders of the ruling [CPP] party themselves have been described as traitors. They hate this term so much. So in revenge they are accusing the CNRP of treason. But no matter what we are called, we have faith in our people, who know who and what are really are. Over three million Cambodians have already voted for us. The CPP will not stop being called traitors simply by accusing the CNRP of treason. The ruling party should start doing good for the people instead.

RFA:  Do you think that seeking foreign assistance and advice to build democracy in your country can be described as a conspiracy?

Kem Monovithya:  Absolutely not! The current government depends a lot on foreign aid and assistance. Even our National Election Committee receives funds from foreign countries. The government has never taken issue with that. But when it comes to the CNRP’s relations with foreign countries, the government paradoxically treats these as a conspiracy. I think the government is manipulating this issue about foreign assistance for political gain and to weaken the opposition party ahead of the national election. That’s why I believe in what I am doing. In my capacity as an official of the CNRP,  I am authorized to deal with foreign countries to ask for their help. I’m not afraid of doing this. And I’m not afraid of being accused by the ruling party for doing this.

RFA:  Hun Sen today threatened to arrest more people in Kem Sokha’s case, saying that treason is an organized offense that must involve several people. What do you think of this?

Kem Monovithya: The CNRP is a well-organized and structured opposition party with over three million supporters. We work together for democracy. Everyone in the party is involved with Kem Sokha in promoting democracy. If the CPP wants to arrest more people, they will have to arrest over three million Cambodians.

RFA:  Several independent media outlets including Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, Voice of Democracy, and the outlet that the CNRP used to air its regular programs to voters have been banned. How is the CNRP communicating its message to people about these latest developments?

Kem Monovithya: We are doing advocacy work now. We cannot accept that these radio stations have been closed. We are using social media to get our message to our people. We are also visiting them, but our visits to our constituents are being met with threats from Hun Sen. The ruling party is attempting to deny our access to information and to demoralize us. They are trying to keep us from carrying out our political activities. These are things we would like the international community to step in to help with.

RFA:  Given the current political tension, will the CNRP continue to stand by its position that it won’t back down?

Kem Monovithya: This is official. The CNRP maintains our position that Kem Sokha must be released. We cannot walk the path marked out by the CPP. We cannot join the CPP in destroying democracy.

RFA:  Hun Sen says that the CNRP is destroying democracy, peace, and stability. He says that he has to maintain peace and stability at all cost. What is your reaction to his remarks?

Kem Monovithya: The world is condemning the government of Cambodia for destroying democracy. The economic growth and developments in Cambodia from the Paris Peace Accords period to the present time have been achieved thanks to Cambodia open to democracy and pluralism. The opposition parties play significant roles in these. The independent media and civil society organizations also play important parts in these. Now the government is destroying them.

RFA:  Several CNRP lawmakers are out of the country now. What are they doing outside of Cambodia? When will they return?

Kem Monovithya: The CNRP lawmakers are meeting supporters in foreign countries. They will go back to Cambodia soon.

RFA: What message would you send to your father in prison?

Kem Monovithya:  My message to him is that we are determined. We won’t back down. We are committed to continuing his fight for democracy. And we are adamant that we will continue to advocate for his immediate and unconditional release so that he can lead the CNRP to positive change [for Cambodia] in the upcoming national election.

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Interview: 'Without Justice There Can’t Be Peace' in Cambodia

Zakariya Tin conducted a phone interview on Wednesday with Son Chhay, Cambodia National Rescue Party chief whip and lawmaker on the country’s ongoing political tensions following Prime Minister Hun Sen’s broad crackdown on the opposition CNRP and civil society and media.

RFA: The Constitutional Council has summarized its work output over the past 24 years in regard to the implementation of the Constitution, saying that the government properly upholds the Constitution and that almost 300 statutes along with various international legal instruments have been adopted and endorsed. As a lawmaker, has our present Constitution been upheld properly?

Son Chhay: My observation is different from what the Constitutional Council has claimed. As we know, our constitution has been amended a couple of times. The gravest amendment was the one that paves the way for a package vote in endorsing a new prime minister and leadership of the National Assembly simultaneously. This is one of the events involving changes to the Constitution. In real practice, as we know nowadays there are ongoing debates among legal experts with the royal government in regard to the arrest of lawmakers while they still have immunity. This is the issue concerning our latest practices.

Yet, if we think further, talking about the Constitution, it stipulates about citizens’ rights and freedom, including freedom of information, political participation, and housing rights, etc. — These rights have not been properly protected. Housing rights and rights to life, for instance, have been violated through acts of land grabbing. As to freedom of expression, many people have also been arrested and jailed. Prior to talking about other human rights, we should also know that our Constitution is based on a pluralistic democracy. The Constitution clearly states about separation of three powers—legislative, executive, and judiciary. If we examine these three pillars, we see that they are being messed up. The National Assembly which is a legislative branch does not enjoy any independence as, mostly, it always follows instructions from the royal government. Likewise, for judiciary system, as we have seen, the court always listen to—especially for politically motivated cases—no matter what the government has said—the courts will follow suit.

Therefore, it is wrong from the top—right from the paramount principles of the Constitution up to the practices of citizens’ rights, the protection of the rights of deputies or lawmakers who represent the people, and various other practices that have been created to ensure that Cambodia has balance of power and guarantee of both resources, rights to life and protection from any violation by any power governing of the country.

RFA: Earlier you mentioned that the three branches have not been clearly separated, in particular the executive branch always exerts its influence on the other two branches. More importantly, it has influence on the paramount institution of the country—the Constitutional Council. What is the main factor causing the executive branch to be able to exert its excessive influence on the other two branches?

Son Chhay: As we know, in principle, the practice of change from the former regime known as a socialist regime, whereby a single party belonged to the state, and multiple parties did not exist, and customs of governing prior to 1993, the state controlled everything. This meant that the same party controlled the government as well as the National Assembly. It is a fact that what had been practiced in the past has remained an influence on the present Constitution. Such practices becomes stronger and stronger due to power of those powerholders. With our weak institutions, leaders in the government always consolidate those powers and centralize them. As a result, it causes other institutions to dare not do anything except follow instructions from the executive branch.

The combination of our past customs and method of consolidation of power in governing the country after 1993 have caused a chaotic situation nowadays. Technically, what our present Constitution states has no longer been implemented, but we turn to follow our past practices as a basis. And that is the issue. Also, those who serve as guarantors of the Constitution are from the members of the same ruling party.

RFA: In Wednesday’s statement from the Constitutional Council, it is stated that Cambodia has a Constitution, and credible legal and judicial systems. Particularly, Cambodia has enjoyed peace and happiness. What are your thoughts about this?

Son Chhay: We must understand clearly what it really means by the term ‘peace’. A peace in a frightening environment or a peace in an environment  of freedom and justice? These are two different versions. That is why Cambodia decided in principle since the Paris Peace Agreement that to ensure sustainable peace, we shall uphold a peace with provision of freedom and social justice. As a matter of fact, we must know that as a theory, peace cannot exist without justice.

If we ask our general citizens whether in their real lives, our society has enjoyed justice, be it political justice, economic justice or whatever; and whether there are any restrictions. When our citizens possess plots of land and these plots have been grabbed by the powerful … and yet our judicial system does not protect them. And when politicians from outside the government who appear to face minor problems have been subject to prosecution by judicial system. Moreover, in business, money and individual power always influence on the way we deal with business and trade.

So we must understand clearly the definition of term ‘peace’. If we merely live in fear and just like what we had experienced during the Pol Pot regime, during which time, they also claimed that Cambodia was at peace! Under Pol Pot’s leadership, when they executed any individual, no one dared to challenge as they just kept quiet even if their family members were taken for execution. At that time, there was no battles with the exception of later on that we had battles with the Vietnamese.

Therefore, when there are no citizens protesting or holding demonstration to demand any freedoms or rights. Is such a society at peace? I don’t think so. In a long-term peaceful society in countries that genuinely uphold democracy, institutions have been properly governed and each institution serves their own citizens. Citizens are allowed to participate in the protection of the interests of the nation and their own personal interests with full practice of freedom of expression. These countries have never experienced any kind of war — no matter how many times they change their government leaders, they still enjoy peace. As we can see in countries in Europe, they change their prime ministers or presidents many times, but we have never heard of their countries being plunged into war or internal disputes. Even in the U.S., with over a hundred of years of peace, they also have never encounter any problems. Their citizens still enjoy freedom. Except in our country when a leader assumes power, they always turn to kill one another and destruction. That is why it plunges the country into trouble. Those claiming that we have peace should clearly understand what these issues really mean. In short, as I said, without justice there can’t be peace.

Translated by Sovannarith Keo.

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Cambodia Opposition Vows to Keep Pushing for Release of Leader Kem Sokha

The opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party vowed on Thursday to continue its campaign to win the freedom of detained CNRP President Kem Sokha in the face of pressure and harassment from authorities in some provinces.

A campaign featuring banners calling for the release of Kem Sokha launched on Monday had seen party worked intimidated and ordered to take down the posters, while in one case the banners were removed by unidentified men.

CNRP leader Kem Sokha was arrested without a warrant in the capital Phnom Penh on Sept. 3 and accused of trying to topple the government with backing from Washington. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

Critics say the move shows Prime Minister Hun Sen is intensifying his attacks on political opponents ahead of national elections scheduled for 2018.

The local news outlet Voice of Democracy quoted CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua as saying that local authorities in the capital Phnom Penh  and in the provinces of Mondulkiri and Kampot verbally ordered party activists to remove banners advocating Kem Sokha’s release.

Mu Sochua told RFA’s Khmer Service that CNRP activists in Ratanakiri province took down the banners fearing reprisal from authorities, but put them back up after receiving assurances of support from party leaders who told them to disregard the commands.

A banner in Kampot province was removed at night by four unidentified men, she said.

“We have advised our activists across the country that they have to demand the local authorities, who order the removal of the banners, to produce a written and official letter from the Ministry of Interior which has to be forwarded to the party for consideration. So far we have not received any written notice on that,” Mu Sochua told RFA.

The Voice of Democracy quoted Khieu Sopheak, the spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, voicing support for local authorities.

“The local authorities’ action is right,” the spokesman was quoted as saying.

Khieu Sopheak advised the CNRP to stop raising the case of Kem Sokha or risk ending up in jail with him.

The ministry spokesman echoed ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan warning earlier this week that the “the CNRP is walking into trouble” if it continues to champion the cause of its leader.

Mu Sochua, however, urged CNRP activists and members not to be intimidated by +rhetoric from the ruling party.

“Verbal instruction is not law. If the government considers that the CNRP’s peaceful protest is against the law, we encourage the Ministry of Interior to state in writing which laws we are breaking,” she said.

Cambodia’s government has also expelled U.S.-funded NGO the National Democratic Institute (NDI), suspended some 20 radio stations that aired content by U.S. broadcasters Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, and targeted the English-language Cambodia Daily with a hefty tax bill, leading to the newspaper’s closure.

Reported and translated by Nareth Muong for RFA’s Khmer Service. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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Cambodia Must Do More to Protect Human Rights: UN Special Rapporteur

The Cambodian government must do more to protect democratic freedoms in the run-up to national elections scheduled for next year, a U.N. official responsible for monitoring human rights in the Southeast Asian country said in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday.

In a report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council, special rapporteur Rhona Smith slammed violent rhetoric and threats directed by prime minister Hun Sen against the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) and its supporters, along with the jailing on questionable charges of opposition figures.

“The deterioration of the democratic space and freedom of expression in Cambodia is a primary concern, with many NGOs and human rights defenders subject to threats, harassment, arrest, and/or extensive pre-trial detention,” Smith said in her report.

Echoing Smith’s remarks, U.S. representative to the Council Jason Mack said the United States “remains gravely concerned about the Government of Cambodia’s ongoing crackdown on opposition parties, independent media, and civil society.”

“The politically-motivated arrest and detention of opposition leader Kem Sokha [has] underscored the need for continued attention by the Council,” Mack said.

CNRP leader Kem Sokha was arrested without a warrant in the capital Phnom Penh on Sept. 3 and accused of trying to topple the government with backing from Washington. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

Critics say the move shows Hun Sen is intensifying his attacks on political opponents ahead of national elections scheduled for 2018.

Cambodia’s government has meanwhile expelled U.S.-funded NGO the National Democratic Institute (NDI), suspended some 20 radio stations that aired content by U.S. broadcasters Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, and targeted the English-language Cambodia Daily with a hefty tax bill, leading to the newspaper’s closure.

‘Selective, unverified’ criticisms

Addressing the Council on Tuesday, Cambodian representative Ney Sam Ol said criticisms of Cambodia’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and Prime Minister Hun Sen have been “based on selective and unverified sources.”

“Political manipulation has been persistently conducted against my government,” Ney Sam Ol said.

“Cambodia remains committed to cooperate and partner with all U.N. human rights mechanisms and relevant stakeholders to further the promotion and protection of human rights based on mutual respect and the principle of noninterference, as mentioned in the U.N. charter and other international human rights instruments.”

Also speaking in Geneva, the representative to the Council from the UK said his country “remains deeply concerned about the use of judicial proceedings against opposition leader Kem Sokha and other opposition politicians and NGO figures, in ways that appear to be politically motivated.”

“Together with harsh restrictions on media outlets and NGOs, including the enforced closure of Cambodia Daily and the National Democratic Institute, these measures imperil multi-party democracy and free debate.”

Cambodia must now take “immediate steps to ensure that free, fair, and credible elections take place in July 2018,” the UK representative said.

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

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Cambodia Rejects Bail Request For Opposition Chief Kem Sokha

Cambodia’s Appeals Court denied opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) chief Kem Sokha bail in absentia Tuesday as he awaits a trial on charges of treason, prompting his legal team to boycott the proceedings in protest.

Kem Sokha was arrested without a warrant in the capital Phnom Penh on Sept. 3 and accused of trying to topple the government with backing from Washington, in a move critics say shows Prime Minister Hun Sen is intensifying his attacks on political opponents ahead of national elections scheduled for 2018. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

In the lead up to the hearing, the Ministry of Interior had said Kem Sokha would not be brought to the court from Trapeang Phlong Prison in Tbong Khmum province due to “security concerns,” after it learned that provocateurs might incite crowds planning to gather at the building.

On Tuesday, hundreds of armed security personnel were deployed on the streets surrounding the Appeals Court ahead of the hearing, which was closed to the media and the public, while dozens of opposition lawmakers and around 100 supporters stood outside calling for Kem Sokha’s release.

When authorities confirmed that the opposition leader would not be allowed to attend his hearing, Kem Sokha’s lawyers boycotted the proceedings, saying the decision was made in violation of their client’s rights. The court went ahead with the hearing and upheld Kem Sokha’s provisional detention, according to an earlier ruling by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service after the ruling, one of Kem Sokha’s lawyers, Chan Chen, said there was no precedent in which the Appeals Court had barred an appellant from their own hearing, adding that the court had acted against the standards of both local and international law.

The court’s claim that it was acting in the interest of Kem Sokha’s security was merely an excuse to prevent him from attending the proceedings, the lawyer said.

“If we appeared at the hearing, it would have seriously impacted our client’s rights, which is unacceptable,” he said.

“We are just lawyers, so we are not party to this matter. Kem Sokha was the only person that needed to appear before the court.”

In a statement in response to the boycott, the Appeals Court said Kem Sokha’s presence was unnecessary because the hearing was not evidentiary, adding that by refusing to attend, his lawyers were hurting his case. No date has been set for his trial.

Following the ruling, senior CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay said that his party has no plans to hold mass demonstrations calling for Kem Sokha’s release, but vowed to stand outside of the opposition leader’s prison every Monday in protest of the charges against him until he is freed.

Son Chhay added that the CNRP will continue to request visits with Kem Sokha after being refused access to the party chief twice on orders by the investigating judge that only his family members and lawyers may see him before his trial.

On Monday, the opposition party launched an advocacy campaign for the release of its leader by hanging posters bearing Kem Sokha’s image and a call for his immediate and unconditional release would be posted at CNRP offices throughout the country.

UN protest

Also on Tuesday, more than 300 members of the Cambodian diaspora held a protest in front of the United Nations Human Rights Council headquarters in Geneva demanding that the group pressure Cambodia’s government to release Kem Sokha, end human rights violations, and respect the principles of democracy by allowing for free and fair elections in 2018.

The protest was the latest by overseas Cambodians to call for Kem Sokha’s immediate and unconditional release following others held in the U.S., France, Canada, Germany, Australia, Belgium, Switzerland, and South Korea.
It came a day after French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian urged Cambodia to resume a pluralistic democracy and to respect human rights and freedom during a meeting with his Cambodian counterpart Prak Sokhon in Paris.

Le Drian raised serious concerns about a political crisis in Cambodia following Kem Sokha’s arrest and a recent crackdown on voices critical of the government ahead of next year’s election.

Since late August, the government has expelled U.S.-funded NGO the National Democratic Institute (NDI), suspended some 20 radio stations that aired content by U.S. broadcasters Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, and targeted the English-language Cambodia Daily with a hefty tax bill, leading to the newspaper’s closure.

Search suspended

Meanwhile, Pol Saroeun, the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Research and Exploration Commission on Tuesday ordered provincial and municipal governments throughout Cambodia to suspend activities related to the search for the remains of missing American soldiers in the country, following accusations that the U.S. was assisting the opposition in a plot to overthrow Hun Sen.

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.

While Hun Sen first mentioned a suspension of search activities on Sept. 15, Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet to issue any official diplomatic to the U.S. government about the decision.

Government-aligned media outlet Fresh News has cited Hun Sen as saying the suspension of cooperation with U.S. military-led teams on search activities was a response to Washington’s halt on the issuing of most visas to senior foreign ministry officials and their families, as well as “several other issues.”

According to the U.S. government, the remains of 48 American soldiers killed during the Vietnam War have yet to be located in Cambodia.

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

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