US Senators in Resolution Urging Cambodia to End Crackdown on Opponents

By Paul Eckert
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us-cambodia-10032017.jpg Cambodian police man a barricade outside a prison in Trapaing Phlong in Tbong Khmum province, where opposition leader Kem Sokha is being held since his Sept. 3 arrest on treason charges, Sept. 11, 2017.

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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