The National Assembly (NA) has responded with utter dismay to European Parliament (EP) criticism on trials for former leaders and activists of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and members of civil society organisations. It urged the EP to have an objective assessment on political developments in Cambodia.
In a statement on March 17, the NA took note of the EP’s resolution of March 11 on the trials against convicted individuals.
The statement said as an independent and sovereign state, Cambodia was entitled to pursue its policy of self-determination in order to protect national interests including peace, stability and prosperity.
Cambodia urged the EP to have an objective assessment of political developments in the country and continue to constructively engage with diverse political groups in Cambodia based on the principles of mutual trust, mutual respect and mutual interest.
The statement added that the trials of the convicted people linked to the “November 9, 2019 plot” were in full conformity with the Constitution and related laws, which strengthened the rule of law in the Kingdom.
“Any attempt to plot an insurrection through the use of defamatory language, incitement to violence, and a call for the armed forces to overthrow a legitimate government are unlawful and must be denounced,” the statement said.
The Phnom Penh municipal court on March 1 sentenced Sam Rainsy, the former leader of the CNRP to 25 years in prison in-absentia. Former CNRP officials who served as his accomplices each received sentences from 20 to 22 years on charges of committing an “attack liable to endanger the institutions of the Kingdom of Cambodia”.
After the Cambodian court issued the ruling, the EP on March 11 released a statement mentioning the mass trials against opposition and civil society in Cambodia, the arrest of people breaching Covid-19 regulations and, especially, the trials of Sam Rainsy and other CNRP leaders, and other members of the disbanded party.
The statement highlighted many problems including the call by the EP to reject Cambodia as the host for the Asia-Europe meeting to be held this year if democracy is not restored. The EP has also called the EP Mission in Phnom Penh and embassies of all member countries to monitor trials and visits prisons, and requested the Cambodian government to reinstate the CNRP and 5,007 commune seats to the party.
However, Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin regarded the EP’s statement as a decision based on self-interest and had a political agenda rather than about human rights and the rule of law.
“Because this institution has accepted requests from opposition groups and their allies and some of their countries. The decision is politically motivated,” he said.
He added, however, that as a sovereign state upholding the principles of sovereignty and the rule of law, Cambodia continued to cooperate and consult with the EP for the EP and the European Commission to learn about the Cambodian court system.
Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute viewed two aspects to the statements from Cambodia and the EP involving the trials.
“The first aspect is we know that the court judged and convicted individuals according to the framework of Cambodian law. So, Cambodia as a sovereign state must have its legal principles in strengthening the rule of law, public order, and internal stability,” he said.
Law enforcement is the right of every country to guarantee safety and public order. The second aspect is the statement by the EP, and he finds that Europe should learn more about Cambodia rather than issue a statement that didn’t reflect the situation the country.
“I believe that there are more differences of opinion in the framework of the statement and I thank Europe for paying attention to Cambodia. But it should help Cambodia in other forms and not just express concerns that don’t reflect the evident situation in the country,” he added.
However, he said that overall, although Cambodia and the EP have issued the statements, it would not affect cooperation and friendship on both sides.
“So, we can have differences of opinion as to the problems of democracy and human rights, but there are other areas where Cambodia and the EP can cooperate. For example, cooperation to reduce poverty, and stimulate the economy during and after Covid-19,” he continued.
He elaborated that this would not damage relationship between the two sides.
“I understand that there are still opportunities and areas for restoring trust between Cambodia and Europe,” he commented.