The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) on Thursday expressed “serious concerns” about rights violations against lawmakers from Cambodia’s now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and called for a meeting with CNRP chief Kem Sokha, who is currently held under house arrest.
The IPU’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians said in a statement that it had met with former CNRP president Sam Rainsy and the official delegation from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) during its Oct. 14-18 session in Geneva, Switzerland, to examine the cases of 57 Cambodian lawmakers after the “unlawful dissolution” of the CNRP in November last year.
“The IPU reaffirmed its prior conclusions that the fundamental rights of all the opposition parliamentarians have been blatantly violated by the authorities, including the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” the statement said.
The statement also cited IPU President Gabriela Cuevas, who met with both sides, saying she “strongly condemned the violations and asked the official delegation to allow an IPU mission to see Mr. Kem Sokha, who was recently placed under house arrest due to ill health in detention.”
Kem Sokha was arrested in September last year on treason charges widely seen as politically motivated and the Supreme Court dissolved his CNRP two months later for its part in an alleged plot to topple the government, banning its candidates from taking part in a July 29 general election that the CPP steamrolled without any viable opponent.
The political crackdown drew condemnation from western governments who lamented Cambodia’s reversals on democracy, dismissed July’s ballot as unfree and unfair, and had demanded Kem Sokha’s release and a reinstatement of the CNRP.
Hun Sen, who secured another five-year term to add to his 33 years in office after official election results were announced on Aug. 15, has made a practice of heavy-handed crackdowns on his critics, followed by a relaxation of restrictions after facing international condemnation.
Despite being denied bail six times, Kem Sokha was finally granted a release by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court from pre-trial detention on Sept. 10, under the conditions that he must stay within a block radius of his home, cannot meet with CNRP officials or foreigners, and cannot or host any rallies or political activities.
Sam Rainsy on Thursday welcomed the IPU’s statement, which he noted was made on behalf of the members of parliaments from 184 countries, and called it critical in the fight to safeguard democracy in Cambodia.
“The IPU condemns the brutality of Cambodian authorities and the abuse of human rights in Cambodia,” said the former CNRP leader, who is currently living in self-imposed exile to avoid several convictions in Cambodia.
“The IPU demands Kem Sokha’s release and the dropping of bogus charges against opposition party members. They also demand that the CNRP be reestablished and permitted to return to politics.”
Sam Rainsy said that the IPU’s statement showed Hun Sen that he “won’t be able to get away with what he has done,” adding that the prime minister must hold another election if he wants international recognition of election results.
Ruling party responds
Cambodia’s now one-party National Assembly, or parliament, dismissed the IPU’s criticism on Thursday, saying that its Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians had “based [its findings] solely on information from another political party.”
“The IPU has blacklisted Cambodia through its biased statement, regardless of the facts,” the National Assembly said in a response attributed to spokesman Chheang Vun.
Chheang Vun warned that the IPU’s statement could “hinder Cambodia’s efforts to obtain peace,” and reiterated that the country had “held a free and fair election” and “respects human rights.”
The National Assembly spokesman also denied that Kem Sokha is being held under house arrest, saying that he was transferred from pre-trial detention “following a court decision and on a humanitarian basis.”
The IPU’s statement came a day after Hun Sen arrived in Brussels for top-level meetings hoping to persuade European leaders to forgo threatened sanctions against his government.
The European Union launched a fact-finding mission to Cambodia in early July to assess whether Hun Sen’s government was adhering to its commitments in the Generalised Scheme of Preferences—an agreement that grants Cambodian exports tax-free entry into the European market under the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme.
Weeks after the investigation, the CPP rolled to victory in the country’s national election following a months-long crackdown on the opposition, NGOs and the independent media.
On Oct. 5, the EU informed Cambodia that it will lose preferential trade status unless it makes “clear and demonstrable improvements” to its rights record.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.