T HE world's commitment to democracy and human rights in Cambodia has been
questioned by the National Assembly's leading human rights advocate.
Sokha, chairman of the assembly's Human Rights Commission, said foreign support
for human rights work in Cambodia appeared to be falling.
that was because countries that gave aid to Cambodia were seeking political
stability ahead of democratic development.
Sokha made his comments in a
June 5 interview, shortly after his return to Cambodia after a two month trip to
the United States and Canada.
During a meeting with US officials, he said
he was told: "Please don't push too fast to implement democracy in Cambodia. The
United States took a long time, 200 years, to implement democracy."
said he had replied that democracy in Cambodia would be lost within five years
unless more effort was made to entrench it.
He said the officials had
pledged their continued support for human rights in Cambodia. He stressed that
the US had provided much support in the past, including to his Parliamentary
commission, "and I hope that they will continue to do so".
Sokha said the
international community had planted the seed of democracy in Cambodia - through
the UN-sponsored 1993 elections - and had an obligation to watch it
"The seed is growing but there are a lot of insects eating at it.
We need the insects to be removed, and water and fertilizer."
Cambodia's elections, the world, and particularly the US, had told Cambodians
about the benefits of democracy.
"If the world community and the United
States will not continue to help....Cambodians will complain about those who
brought democracy to Cambodia but did not look after it."
In response to
a question, Sokha said: "I am not disappointed with any foreign officials
but...they leave me to work alone in human rights in Cambodia. They leave me
alone to live in the fire."
He said foreign countries were more reluctant
to support human rights work "because they think Cambodia needs
But he believed Cambodia would not be truly stable until
human rights were guaranteed, and that having entrenched political stability
would make it easier for people's rights to be violated.
Sokha was in
Canada when the country's Foreign Relations Minister, Andre Ouellet, spoke out
against the use of trade embargoes against countries with poor human rights
In a change of Canadian policy, he said the best way to promote
democracy abroad was to boost trade with such countries, "irrespective of
whether they have dictatorships or...political governments that do not espouse
our own beliefs about human rights".
He made his comments after a two-day
private meeting with foreign ministers of countries in the Association of
Southeast Nations (ASEAN), of which Cambodia is seeking membership. He indicated
Canada's previous reluctance to trade with Asian countries such as Myanmar
(Burma) would change.
Sokha, asked about Oullet's comments, said he did
not agree with them. He said he thought that giving people rights and democratic
power was the best way to see a country develop and its rewards shared
In the US, two draft laws giving Most Favored Nation (MFN)
trading status to Cambodia - making it more attractive to foreign investors -
are to be debated by Congress.
On his trip, Sokha urged the laws' authors
- Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and Senator John McCain - to ensure MFN status
could be withdrawn if Cambodia's human rights record worsened.
One of the
draft laws specifically authorizes Congress or the President to suspend MFN
status to Cambodia at any time, and he hoped US officials would support such a