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Silence is a crime

Two men carry a wounded person along Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Boulavard in January
Two men carry a wounded person along Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Boulavard in January where violent clashes between striking garment workers and authorities turned fatal. POST STAFF

Silence is a crime

Dear Editor,

Gareth Evans, the former foreign minister of Australia, was one of the first international figures to formally propose the involvement of the UN to end the Cambodian conflict, and he played a significant role in the adoption of the Paris Peace Accords.

With his recent opinion piece for Project Syndicate, Gareth Evans once again becomes the first to propose a solution for the protection of human rights and liberal democracy for Cambodia by calling for the naming, shaming and for the investigation and sanctioning of the government of the Cambodia People’s Party.

In his Op-Ed, the former foreign minister uses terms that governments who signed the Paris Peace Accords have been afraid to say: Hun Sen has been “getting away with murder”.

The murder that Evans points to ranges from the 1997 grenade attack that remains unresolved to summary killings in the 1997 coup d’etat, to last January’s onslaught by military police on striking workers.

The next blow to the Hun Sen government in the Op-Ed are the words “pattern of strategic violence” to maintain power.

It is such a pattern that the International Criminal Court will look into when the Cambodia case is filed and accepted.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), establishing complaint and inquiry mechanisms, is another international instrument that will allow Cambodian women, who are victims of state violence, to pursue their case to the CEDAW Committee.

To my knowledge, experts with international credibility are preparing the cases to these international bodies of justice.

Almost daily reports of the systematic use of state forces and locally hired militia produce no more than “concerns” by governments committed to Cambodia’s sustainable development.

The active but quiet diplomacy behind closed doors goes on – and has worked at times to restrain the lethal use of force. However, the courage of the international community as a whole to bring justice to the victims, and to underscore principles of human rights, freedoms and liberties that these governments profess, has yet to come into view.

It is high time for the international community to stop living with the hope that the “pattern of strategic violence” will change in favour of true reforms. Evans has given up on the fantasy – and he has been a friend of Hun Sen for years.

Evans has done his part to stop the façade of democracy by naming and shaming the government of Hun Sen. Now comes the next part of delivering justice to the victims and the rescue of human rights and liberal democracy in Cambodia: investigation and sanctions.

As for investigation of the crimes and violence committed by the state and high ranking officials related to the government of Hun Sen, as well as investigation of electoral irregularities, the European Union Parliament, the US Senate and he Australian Senate have passed resolutions.

These must be translated into action before more blood and lives of innocent Cambodians are wasted. These countries should send immediately high level delegations of politicians and crime experts to gather evidence and to take victims’ testimonies.

The international community holds untapped leverage which includes its markets for Cambodian-made goods, to providing legitimacy for the government of Hun Sen.

As for sanctions, the US and other countries can legislate laws similar to the Magnitsky Act of 2012, named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer and author who died in prison after investigating fraud involving Russian tax officials in 2009.

Such laws can make public a list of Cambodian high ranking officials responsible for directing the orders to crack down on protesters, and can name and forbid them and other high ranking officials and tycoons involved in land grabs from entering the US.

With courage and accountability, EU countries that purchase agricultural goods from Cambodia – in particular sugar – can pass the same law. Australia is home to families of many high ranking officials, some of whom have been on the list of Australian police for drug related investigation.

The proposed alternatives have a minimum impact on development aid and the daily lives of the Cambodian poor. The people of Cambodia have done their part by demonstrating their determination to bring change for the rescue of the nation.

The courage of our people should be met with the courage of a world community willing to pursue the apparatchiks who put on hold Cambodia’s human rights and liberal democracy.

Tribute should also be paid to the diplomats in Cambodia who are moving the scene from behind. To those who have yet to join that very small crowd, time is almost running out. Silence is part of the crime.
May there be more Gareth Evans.

Mu Sochua
Cambodia National Rescue Party


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