Politicians and civil society members in New York called on the United Nations to take harsh measures to restore democracy in Cambodia during a panel on Tuesday, even recommending leaving Cambodia’s seat at the UN empty and putting senior ruling party officials on a blacklist.
The discussion, co-hosted by the missions of the United States and European Union to the UN, was held by Kem Monovithya, former opposition official and daughter of jailed opposition leader Kem Sokha; Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM) head Pa Nguon Teang; and Human Rights Watch Asia Advocacy Director John Sifton. In the panel, recorded by Radio Free Asia, Monovithya asked the signatories of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords to ask the UN to review Cambodia’s membership.
The panel was convened in light of Cambodia’s deteriorating political situation, which saw the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party summarily dissolved last month.
“Why are we even here, pretending that we will have an election in 2018 when it is very clear that the ruling elites right now, they have shown that they have zero respect . . . for election?” Monovithya asked.
Monovithya also requested the signatory countries to send a request to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a fact-finding mission to Cambodia.
Human Rights Watch’s Sifton, meanwhile, highlighted the importance of targeted economic sanctions.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen and the [Cambodian People’s Party] have ruled Cambodia for decades,” he said. “The current crackdown is a wake-up call on the international community to basically come to realise that this man, or this party, are not good-faith actors and need to be dealt with in a less diplomatic way.”
The way forward, Sifton argued, would be to put senior government officials under the Specially Designated Nationals list, a measure invoked against people found to be involved in gross human rights violations or massive corruption. People on the list are banned from doing business in the US, and many international banks refuse to handle their funds.
CCIM’s Nguon Teang agreed with the calls for action at the international level. In addition to suspending Cambodia’s seat at the UN, he called for the signatories of the Paris Accords to reconvene in accordance with an article in the agreement stipulating that they can meet again if the principles of the agreement are breached.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for Cambodia’s Council of Ministers, said the government could “not tolerate” such attempts to isolate Cambodia internationally.
“It’s a rebellious act. It’s terrorism,” he said, arguing that the participants attempted to “make the people afraid”.
Before the panel convened, Cambodia’s mission to the UN criticised the event as interference in the country’s internal affairs. A representative from the EU Delegation to the UN refuted this in an email, saying, the meet was “about strengthening Cambodia’s developing democratic systems”.
A US Mission to the United Nations statement echoed the assessment.
“The United States joined the European Union and other concerned partners at the United Nations to highlight this negative trend and demand better for the Cambodian people. We will continue to partner with the international community to uphold the dignity of the Cambodian people and encourage the Cambodian government to take a better path,” it said.