The European Commission again raised concerns about the arrests of opposition activists, the trials of former opposition leader Kem Sokha and union leader Rong Chhun, and the EU’s partial withdrawal of the “Everything But Arms” trade scheme in a meeting on Friday.
In response, Cambodian officials insisted all arrests were made with legal basis.
The concerns were raised during a three-day meeting between Cambodia and the European Commission from November 25-27 to review and discuss all areas of bilateral cooperation, a meeting that is held every two years.
The meeting was expected to wrap up on November 30, but Cambodia requested a postponement to an unspecified date due to Covid-19, according to Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin.
“The topics of discussion related to democracy, human rights, rule of law, legal enforcement, and good governance. The EU Commission has raised their concerns over the legal enforcement by Cambodia on opposition activists, the case of Kem Sokha, Rong Chhun, and the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
“But all of these are nothing new. They have been raised in the past and there are still concerns these are a violation of human rights, repression, and restriction of freedom and political rights.
“Cambodia clarified the arrests were not restrictions on freedom or a restriction on political rights. They are merely legal enforcement. We explained the legal perspective in Cambodia and the court procedures to ensure them those arrests are under law and have nothing to do with human rights.”
The EU commission linked the arrests to the former CNRP, but the authorities only arrested those who violated the law and did not single out any group, Malin said.
The EU Commission announced a partial withdrawal of EBA in February, a decision that went into effect in August.
The EU cited a “serious and systematic violation” of principles in four core human and labour rights.
Malin said the topics were brought to discussion only to review what happened in the past, but both the EU and Cambodia were working with each other on several aspects, including resolving disputes outside the court system and lawmaking based on the principle of democracy. Both sides are preparing to provide training to justice officials, he said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said there seems to be no lessening of the government’s repressive measures against Sokha, opposition activists and civil society groups since the EU’s EBA withdrawal.
On the contrary, he said, judging from recent statements by Prime Minister Hun Sen and other top civilian and military leaders, those measures have become systematic instead.
“After the latest talks with the EU it is possible the government might postpone or dismiss the trial of the 130 or so opposition activists who were recently put on trial,” he said.