Cambodia’s Opposition Party Seeks U.N.’s Help to End Political Acrimony

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Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy (R) speaks to the press as deputy president Kem Sokha (L) looks on in Tokyo, Nov. 10, 2015.
Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy (R) speaks to the press as deputy president Kem Sokha (L) looks on in Tokyo, Nov. 10, 2015.

Cambodia’s opposition party delivered a letter to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on Wednesday, calling for an immediate meeting of the signatory countries to the 1991 Paris Peace Accords to address the Southeast Asian nation’s dangerous political situation.

The letter charges that checks and balances in the political system no longer exist and that the situation is preventing the democratic aspirations of the Cambodia people realized under Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for more than three decades.

The current politically tense situation directly violates the key tenets of the Paris Peace Accords, including Cambodia’s commitment to ensure the protection of the human rights of all citizens, the letter dated May 4 says.

The agreement signed in 1991 marked the official end of a Cambodian-Vietnamese War and permitted the U.N. to oversee a cease-fire and democratic elections after years of bloody civil war and the late 1970s reign of terror by the Khmer Rouge.

“Nearly 25 years since the Paris Peace Accords, Cambodian democracy has become more paralyzed, as its core institutions—the legislative, executive and judicial branches—are used by the ruling party as tools to eliminate its opposition,” says the letter from Kem Sokha, the CNRP’s vice president and acting president, and 54 other party deputies.

It goes on to say that the signatories should immediately convene an international conference on Cambodia “to review gaps in the implementation of the Paris Peace Accords, to ensure safety of all members of the opposition, and to help stabilize the political situation, in advance of critical elections in 2017 and 2018.”

The letter charges that Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has cracked down on opposition lawmakers and civil society groups over the past year, subjecting them to politically motivated lawsuits that violate the constitution’s immunity clause for lawmakers as well as physical attacks in the case of two CNRP lawmakers who were brutally beaten by pro-government demonstrators.

No response yet

The CNRP sent copies of the letter to Indonesia’s foreign affairs minister, Retno Marsudi, and France’s minister of foreign affairs and international development, Jean-Marc Ayrault—both of whom are co-presidents of the Paris Peace Conference on Cambodia.

“We have not received any official response from the U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon,” CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay told RFA’s Khmer Service in an interview on Wednesday.

In recent months, the situation has grown worse with the CPP’s abuse of power and its use of the judiciary and other state institutions against the CNRP, he said.

The more than 20 countries that signed the accord are responsible for helping to protect Cambodia, he said.

“We are not calling it an emergency situation, but it is a very dangerous one that needs immediate help from the international community,” Son Chhay said.

In recent months, the government has arrested more than a dozen opposition lawmakers, including Senator Hong Sok Hour, CNRP media director Meach Sovannara, and Um Sam An, an opposition member of parliament.

CNRP leader Sam Rainsy is living in self-imposed exile following his removal from parliament in November 2015 by the CPP because of a warrant issued for his arrest in a seven-year-old defamation case.

Sam Rainsy told RFA in an interview on May 5 that he hopes to find a way to return to Cambodia before the elections, but said that unveiling his plans too early would put him at risk.

Kem Sokha has accused the government of using allegations of sexual misbehavior to attack him as his party prepares for the upcoming elections in 2017 and 2018.

Four staff members from the domestic rights group Adhoc were sent to prison this month on charges of bribing a witness and acting as accomplices in the scandal.

Request to summon justice minister

In a related development, the CNRP is continuing to push a request for Hun Sen to summon Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana for questioning before the National Assembly regarding the arrests of CNRP deputies and human rights officials as well as the summoning of other lawmakers to testify in various court cases, Son Chhay said.

Ten CNRP lawmakers signed a letter dated May 6, which the National Assembly’s secretariat sent to Hun Sen six days later.

“We are waiting for a response,” he said, adding that a verbal and written reply should be sent within a week’s time.

CNRP lawmakers want to question the justice minister about the use of influence to control the courts, constitutional violations regarding parliamentary immunity, and intimidation of members of their party and others who criticize the government, he said.

Rhona Smith, the U.N. special rapporteur to Cambodia on human rights, said in March that Cambodia’s contentious and at times violent political situation has pushed it “close to a dangerous tipping point.”

As recently as last week, a group of U.N. experts on human rights said the Cambodian government must immediately end its attacks on civil society members, rights activists, and political opposition figures and take effective steps to preserve political freedoms.

A government spokesman dismissed the U.N. experts’ remarks as interference in the country’s affairs.

Reported by Vuthy Huot and Neang Ieng for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.





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