Hun Sen's Government Pushes Back Against EU Threat to Withhold Funds from Cambodia

Hun Sen's Government Pushes Back Against EU Threat to Withhold Funds from Cambodia Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan addresses the media, June 6th, 2016.
RFA/Tha Vuthy

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government dismissed the European Parliament’s threat to withhold millions of Euros in development funding unless the government releases the Kem Sokha Five detained activists and rescinds an arrest warrant for opposition party leader Sam Rainsy.

On Friday Sok Eysan, a spokesman the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP),  dismissed the EU resolution saying the legal entanglements of the human rights workers and Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) officials were the fault of those involved and not the CPP or the Cambodian government.

“We cannot use the EU law,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service. “It is not right because Cambodia is an independent and sovereign state with its own constitution that was born from the United Nations Transitional Authority (UNTAC) in Cambodia that organized the election to establish the constitution, set up the royal government and recognized Cambodia as an independent and sovereign state.”

Sok Eysan had a day earlier dismissed the head of the U.N. as having no knowledge of Cambodian affairs after Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also appealed for an end to Hun Sen’s crackdown on the opposition. He did not explain the discrepancy in his views.

UNTAC ran from 1992–93. It was established in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge and civil war to restore order and safeguard human rights. UNTAC also marked the first occasion in which the UN took over the administration of an independent state, ran an election instead of monitoring or supervising one and was responsible for promoting and safeguarding human rights at the national level.

The European Parliament’s resolution approved on Thursday is the strongest condemnation to date of the political crisis inside Cambodia.

The resolution calls for the release of four employees of the human rights organization ADHOC and a National Election Committee member who were jailed on bribery or accessory charges after being accused of attempting to pay hush money to the alleged mistress of CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha. An arrest warrant has also been issued for a U.N. worker in connection with the case.

Kem Sokha is currently holed up inside CNRP headquarters after heavily armed police attempted to arrest him for refusing to appear in court as a witness in cases connected with his alleged affair with a young hairdresser named Khom Chandaraty.

Court battle resumes

On Wednesday, a Phnom Penh court summoned Khom Chandaraty to appear in court to testify on June 16, but it is unclear exactly why she is being ordered to appear.

Her summons follows a June 2 warrant ordering Kem Sokha to appear in court on June 14 for his refusal to appear in court to testify as a witness last month in a defamation lawsuit related to recordings of intimate phone conversations he allegedly had with Khom Chandaraty.

CNRP President Sam Rainsy has been staying in France or traveling since an arrest warrant was issued for him in November over a 2008 defamation case and he was removed from his office and stripped of his parliamentary immunity.After Sam Rainsy left the country, the CNRP named Kem Sokha its acting president.

In the European Parliament’s resolution, it specifically ties funding supplied by the EU for development with an improvement in human rights.

“Given that the EU is Cambodia's largest development assistance partner, with a new allocation of €410 million (U.S. $462 million) for 2014-2020, Parliament calls on the European External Action Service (EEAS) to make the ‘amount of EU financial assistance dependent on improvements in the human rights situation in the country,’” the resolution states.

“EU member states, foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, the EEAS and the EU Commission should also set out clear benchmarks for the forthcoming elections in Cambodia, consistent with international law on freedom of expression, association and assembly,” it adds.

It also calls for the release of the Kem Sokha Five and revocation of the Sam Rainsy’s warrant.

“The Cambodian authorities should revoke the arrest warrant for, and drop all charges against, Sam Rainsy, President of the leading opposition party, the CNRP, and also immediately release the five human rights defenders still in preventive custody, namely Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, Lim Mony and Ny Chakra,” the resolution reads.

Expression of opinion

A spokesperson for Hun Sen’s cabinet, the Council of Ministers chief Phay Siphan, described the EU statement as a mere expression of opinion, saying Cambodia does not pay attention to the EU’s aid conditions.

“What we see is that the pressure from the EU is caused by misleading information the CNRP produces for the U.S. Congress as well as the European Parliament,” he said.

He expressed skepticism that the EU would follow through with the threat to withhold funding because the Europeans don’t want to risk their investments in the country.

“It is increasing year after year because their goal is different from politics, it is for development, for good relations, and cooperation for mutual interests in business,” he said.

Not everyone is as sanguine about the threat, however.

Noted Cambodian political scientist Ros Ravuth said the Cambodian government should consider the international community’s concerns. If Cambodia continues to let the current situation drag on, it could make Cambodia lose face in the international arena and could affect foreign aid, he told RFA.

“The government should reconsider,” he said. “First, it is related to EU aid for infrastructure construction in Cambodia, and it also has impact on Cambodia’s marketplace, especially the market for rice, for which Cambodia’s biggest market is the European Union.”

Instead of confronting each other, the parties should restart the “culture of dialogue” rather than confronting each other and revealing the country’s internal conflicts, said Ros Ravuth.

'It's a mess.'

In the provinces, the government continues to detain CNRP members and supporters attempting to collect thumbprints on a petition asking King Norodom Sihamoni to seek the release of human rights and political activists arrested by the government.

Three villagers in O’ Yadav district, Rattanakiri province, were detained and questioned by the police on June 10th.

A relative of one of the detained villagers told RFA the three were traveling to attend a Christian religious meeting in Andong Meas district when they were stopped by police who suspected them of collecting thumbprints for the petition. In Cambodia thumbprints often take the place of signatures.

Rattanakiri Deputy Governor Nhem Sam Oeun told RFA that CNRP attempts to collect thumbprints alarmed the local people.

The authorities are concerned that the CNRP activists are forcing people to thumbprint the petition, so they took action for the sake of people’s safety, but they did not arrest anyone, he said.

“It is a mess, and we are afraid there is pressure or people are being forced to thumbprint against their will, and it seems to cause chaos and insecurity,” Nhem Sam Oeun said.

He did not offer evidence that the CNRP was pressuring people to support the petition. Villagers typically say the intimidation comes from the ruling party.

Leang Leat, a CNRP activist in Srae Sangkum commune, Koh Nheaek district, told RFA the commune chief warned him against collecting thumbprints and sent a letter summoning him for questioning in the commune office on June 10th.

“They asked me if I had requested permission to go around and collect thumbprints,” he told RFA. “I told them ‘No, I did not’ and that I did not do it to get people to topple the government, or to cause chaos but just to ask the King to help release the human rights defenders.”

Reported by Yeang Sothearin, Sok Ratha, Yeang Sothearin and Ieng Neang for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.


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