The Cambodian diaspora is gearing up for a week of international anti-government protests in the wake of the surprise arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha, even as the Cambodia National Rescue Party steadfastly refuses to protest their president’s detention on Cambodian soil.
Sokha’s daughter, Kem Samathida, shared a list of planned protests in Australia, Canada, France, the United States and New Zealand on Facebook yesterday, with protests also planned in Germany and Belgium.
Cambodian-Australian Hong Lim, a member of Australia’s state Parliament of Victoria who is helping organise Saturday’s protest in Melbourne, said the main focus of the demonstration is to pressure the international community into taking more concrete action against Cambodia and Hun Sen.
“We want to send a very powerful message to Hun Sen and his cronies that this is unacceptable,” he said.
Lim said “disappointment” at the international community’s response so far would be “an understatement”.
He also accused the Australian government of dragging its heels because of coveted business ties with the Kingdom, as well as a multimillion-dollar deal under which Cambodia has agreed to take in Australia’s unwanted refugees being held on the island prison of Nauru.
While condemnations of the arrest have come in from different corners of the globe, no nations have pledged concrete action, such as economic sanctions.
The US, for example, noted the developments “with grave concern”, while Australia said it “urges Cambodia to fully implement the principles of democracy”.
The deputy president of the opposition, Mu Sochua, has said the CNRP will not organise or participate in protests out of fear of violence, and distanced herself from the international demonstrations yesterday. “We have nothing to do with it,” she said.
Tung Yap, one of the organisers of the upcoming Washington, DC, protest, said he understood the CNRP’s decision not to take to the streets. “It could lead to a big disaster,” he said.
Yap also said that the US must take more stringent measures.
“I don’t want to boycott the garment industry because it will hurt the people, but the US may have to remove special trading privileges,” he said.
Kingsley Abbott, senior legal adviser at the International Commission of Jurists, said on Wednesday that Cambodia would be “high on the agenda” at the upcoming UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The council will discuss a resolution to renew the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur to Cambodia, and Abbott said ICJ and other organisations are advocating member states to include language “that explicitly recognises Cambodia’s deteriorating human rights situation, and takes steps to address it”.
They have also requested that the council “identify concrete actions that the . . . international community should take”.