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US senators call for halt to Cambodia aid

Citing concerns over Cambodia’s human rights record and lack of electoral reforms, a pair of US senators has asked congress to consider halting foreign aid should the elections go forward without Sam Rainsy and a revamping of the National Election Committee.

In the resolution entitled “Calling for More Accountable Foreign Assistance for Cambodia”, Senators Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio urge the Committee of Foreign Affairs to hold Cambodia accountable for a raft of rights violations.

“America’s investment in that Southeast Asian country has been anything but insignificant,” reads the resolution, dated June 7 and obtained yesterday.

“Unfortunately, we are not getting a return on this investment when it comes to the advancement of the rule of law, democracy, and human rights.”

The US is one of Cambodia’s largest donors, providing $1.25 billion in aid and military assistance between 1993 and 2011, according to the senators. An additional $73.5 million in aid has been earmarked for next year.

Pointing to the Kingdom’s rating on the Human Development Index (138 of 187), its Corruption Perceptions Index standing (157 of 174) and its “not free” ranking in Freedom House’s latest world report, the senators then call for the US government to pull all support for the elections unless they accept recommendations posited by UN special rapporteur Surya Subedi, among others.

“A Cambodian government formed as a result of such illegitimate elections should not be eligible for direct United States Government assistance, including for the military and police, and the Department of State and United States Agency for International Development should jointly reassess and reduce assistance for Cambodia in subsequent fiscal years, and urge international financial institutions to do the same,” they continue.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he was “very thankful for their concern about the upcoming election”, but urged a more nuanced look, pointing out that Rainsy’s convictions made him ineligible to run and stressing that the ruling party had been nothing if not “mature and patient” in the run-up to the July vote.

“I wish the US government would strengthen the rule of law rather than polarise this election. This election represents the will of the people.”

Noting that the resolution remained pending, US Embassy spokesman John Simmons declined to comment on whether aid would in fact be suspended but urged the Cambodian government to “consider seriously the recommendations by the UN special rapporteur”.

“The upcoming national elections will be a critical test of the Royal Government of Cambodia’s commitment to strengthening the nation’s democracy,” he wrote in an email.

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