The European Parliament passed a resolution yesterday calling on the European Commission and European External Action Service to impose visa restrictions on Cambodian officials and freeze their assets, and to review the human rights clauses of the Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement for a potential temporary suspension.
After highlighting their concerns about an ongoing crackdown on the opposition and civil society in Cambodia, parliamentarians called on the commission to “review Cambodia’s obligations under conventions in Article 19 of the EBA regulation”, and asserted that “if Cambodia is acting in violation of its obligation under the EBA regulation, the tariff preferences it currently enjoys must be temporarily withdrawn”.
Under Article 19 the preferential agreement may be temporarily withdrawn for all or certain products. The EBA affects a number of Cambodian exports to the EU, such as sugar and garments.
The adoption of the European Parliament resolution is not binding, though it sends a strong signal to the commission to take action.
This is the fifth resolution on Cambodia adopted by the European Parliament in its legislative term since 2014.
The need to take action was also highlighted by individual parliamentarians yesterday. “Last month democracy and the rule of law in Cambodia received a brutal blow,” said parliamentarian Charles Tannock, referring to the Supreme Court’s widely condemned decision to dissolve the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. “And yet Cambodia is a country that continues to enjoy tariff preferences.”
Petras Austrevicius agreed. “We should have learned the lesson: only words do not and will not work with the Cambodian government,” he said. “We must take action.”
Representing the European Commission, Karmenu Vella said at the end of the debate that the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the commission were “monitoring the situation in Cambodia”, and were checking whether conditions were fulfilled for a potential temporary withdrawal.
“Cambodia is heading towards increasing authoritarianism. In recent months, the Cambodian government has taken action to stifle, to suffocate democracy,” he said.
The resolution also “calls on the EEAS and the commission to prepare a list of individuals responsible for the dissolution of the opposition and other serious human rights violations in Cambodia with a view to imposing possible visa restrictions and asset freezes on them”.
The US has already imposed visa restrictions on officials involved in “undermining democracy”, and both the EU and US have pulled funding for the National Election Committee.
Cambodian political analyst Ou Virak said that visa restrictions and asset freezes would be the “better options”, as “the impact would be much more direct”.
But Phay Siphan, Council of Ministers spokesperson, said such measures didn’t matter. “We don’t mind at all. Go ahead, do that,” he dared the European Union. “We prefer having nothing [from other countries], but we enjoy our freedom.”
He maintained that the EU would be shooting itself in the foot should it decide to impose visa restrictions. “Europe loses our money we spend [when travelling there],” he said.
Mu Sochua, deputy president of the now-dissolved CNRP, said she believed the European Commission “will take more steps”.