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‘Cambodia Democracy Act’ passed by US House

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Chum Sounry, Cambodian ambassador the US (right), meets Representative Ted Yoho on May 17. Supplied

‘Cambodia Democracy Act’ passed by US House

The US House of Representatives in Washington, DC, on Monday, passed the “HR 526 Cambodia Democracy Act”, also known as the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019.

If signed off by th US president, the bill would allow two major sets of action to be taken against high-ranking Cambodian officials the US sees as responsible for undermining democracy and violating human rights in the Kingdom.

Introduced by Ted Yoho, Republican Representative for Florida, on January 11 this year, it purportedly aims to “promote free and fair elections, political freedoms and human rights in Cambodia, and other purposes”.

The bill cited seven findings including “the undemocratic rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen, the enactment of the NGO law, restrictions on the media, the arrest of Kem Sokha and the dissolution of the CNRP [Cambodia National Rescue Party], six unfair and unfree elections since 1991 and ungenuine 2018 elections”.

It also calls for the release of Sokha, the reinstatement of the Supreme Court-dissolved CNRP and the return of its elected seats in the National Assembly.

It is unclear who in the Cambodian government or military would be targeted should the bill become law.

If the bill is approved, the president will be able to take action no later than within 180 days of its signing – against each senior official of the Cambodian government, military or security forces that “the president determines has directly and substantially undermined democracy in Cambodia; or has committed or directed serious human rights violations associated with undermining democracy in Cambodia”.

Trump would also be able to apply sanctions on “entities owned or controlled by senior officials of the government, military or security forces of Cambodia”.

The bill lists two sanctions – asset blocking, which prohibits all transactions in property and interests in property of a person designated if these are in the US and visa sanctions restricting entry into the US.

The bill said the president would determine who is to be listed.

“The ‘Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019’, which has passed the US House of Representatives, expresses the very real concerns lawmakers in Washington have about eroding human rights and the weakening of democratic institutions in Cambodia,” US embassy in Phnom Penh spokesperson Emily Zeeberg, told The Post via email on Tuesday.

She said the bill still needed Senate approval before it can become law.

‘Against the political will’

Government spokesperson Phay Siphan said the news came as a surprise and it was with regret that he had heard the US House of Representatives had passed the bill.

“I think the bill is political in nature and has the intention to go against the political will of Cambodians who legitimately elected their leaders through peaceful and democratic elections,” Siphan said.

He said Cambodia could not accept the bill because it was based on unfounded accusations and showed “political ambition” against the Cambodian government and people.

“The bill goes against the peace, stability and prosperity of the Kingdom of Cambodia. In this context, I appeal to the US’ legislative and executive branches to think twice regarding their position on Cambodia in the interests of a good relationship and the mutual interests of the people and governments of both countries,” Siphan stressed.

He said he expected the US Senate and president to focus on the good relationship and cooperation the two nations had been fostering.

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said should the bill become law, it would have far more dangerous consequences for the Kingdom and the targeted individual Cambodian leaders than they could have imagined.

“If fully implemented, it will suck Cambodia into the quagmire of the current Sino-US conflict. Cambodia was sucked into such quagmires in succession in the 1970s and 1980s, and couldn’t get out of them as a sovereign and independent state until the Paris Peace Agreements [were signed in 1991]."

“It would be wishful thinking to imagine that in the present day, a divided Cambodia would fare any better and get out of this new quagmire with its sovereignty and independence intact,” he said.