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Gov’t: US has ‘gone beyond remit’ in criticising elections

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A polling station last year at Sothearos High School in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

Gov’t: US has ‘gone beyond remit’ in criticising elections

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said on Tuesday that the US embassy had “gone beyond its remit” by criticising last year’s national elections as “deeply flawed”.

The reaction came shortly after the release of a statement by the US embassy in Phnom Penh on Tuesday noting the anniversary of the national elections held on July 29, last year.

The embassy said the elections were “deeply flawed”. “That vote was neither free nor fair, and it failed to represent the will of the Cambodian people,” its statement said.

It said the elections excluded the country’s principal opposition party and had further eroded the country’s achievements in promoting political reconciliation and economic growth since the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements.

It also called for the release of Kem Sokha, the president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, and other political prisoners, as well as the ending of the practice of using “baseless, politically motivated charges to harass citizens”.

“All in Cambodia should be able to exercise their rights to express their views freely and to assemble peacefully, and for citizens to take part in the conduct of public affairs,” it said.

However, Siphan hit back at the embassy by saying a turnout in the polls of more than 83 per cent showed Cambodians had demonstrated their will.

He said the result of the elections was the outright ownership of Cambodians and did not belong to any foreigner.

“It is beyond the remit of an embassy and a strange action. Foreign powers, even the US, are not allowed to interfere in [other countries’] elections and the decision of the people.

“Therefore, they should learn from the wish of Americans, which is the same as Cambodians, that they do not want to see foreigners interfere in their elections or internal affairs.

“It is regretful that [the US embassy] has not taken into account the American politicians in the US House of Representatives who came out to protest and make propaganda against Cambodians,” Siphan said, adding that Cambodia still valued its friendship and good cooperation with the US.

The US’ lower chamber passed the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019 on July 15, which if signed off by US President Donald Trump, would allow visa sanctions and asset freezing against high-ranking Cambodian officials allegedly responsible for undermining democracy and violating human rights in the Kingdom.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation earlier this month released a statement reminding embassies of Article 41 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and respect for the laws and regulations of the receiving state.

“They also have a duty not to interfere in the national affairs of that state,” the statement said.

Kin Phea, the director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said it was unreasonable that the US embassy paid so much attention to the purely internal affairs of Cambodia.

“Foreign countries should stay away from Cambodia’s internal affairs and should not make irresponsible remarks regarding other countries’ sovereignty and independence. They should play a constructive role in maintaining peace and stability in the region,” Phea said.

However, political analyst Lao Mong Hay said the US was bound as a signatory to the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements to promote and encourage respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cambodia.

The accords also meant it was to ensure Cambodia followed a system of liberal democracy, based on pluralism, and hold periodic and genuine elections, he said.

When the US or any other signatory to the agreements issued criticism of the absence of democracy and genuine elections in Cambodia, he said, it should be seen as honouring its treaty obligations.

“The government, which is not pleased by this statement, should call up the US ambassador or charge d’affaires to discuss the so-called interference into the internal affairs of Cambodia.

“It can be recalled that the Khmer Rouge vehemently rebuked the UK for interfering in the internal affairs of [the regime’s] Democratic Kampuchea when the latter country raised, in March 1978, the issue of mass violations of human rights,” Mong Hay said.

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