The European Parliament is due to vote on Thursday on a 13-point resolution on Cambodia – which includes a call for the treason charges against bailed opposition leader Kem Sokha to be dropped – a threat that could see the EU enforce a range of sanctions against the Kingdom.
Aside from targeting individuals, the EU could withdraw Cambodia from its preferential Everything But Arms (EBA) trade deals, which allow emerging economies to export goods to the 28-member bloc tariff-free.
Regarding the case of the former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president, the Cambodian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ney Sam Ol, said Sokha’s release on court-supervised bail was “a humanitarian act under the prerogative of the investigating judge”.
Three European Parliamentarians, Spain’s Elena Valenciano, Sweden’s Soraya Post and the UK’s David Martin, submitted a motion for a resolution on Cambodia, notably focusing on Sokha’s case.
The motion, published on the EU parliament’s website on Tuesday, calls for the body to vote on a 13-point resolution, which includes the dropping of charges against Sokha, and the institution of visa sanctions and asset freezes on those who have breached human rights and those responsible for the dissolution of the CNRP.
The motion also calls on the parliament to address concerns over a perceived shrinking of the civil society space and the alleged harassment of NGOs and opposition politicians, and restrictions allegedly being placed on independent media, among other matters.
The eighth point of the motion calls for “a debate on cases of breaches of human rights, democracy and the rule of law” and “welcomes the dedicated mission to Cambodia from the Commission and European External Action Service (EEAS) in relation to ongoing EBA trade preferences”.
It also “urges the Commission to continue its investigation, including into land grabbing issues, and report its findings and conclusions to the European Parliament; recalls that in accordance with EBA requirements, trade preferences should be suspended if Cambodia is in violation of its human rights obligations”.
Ambassador to the UN office in Geneva Sam Ol reacted to the comments by newly nominated UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who on Monday called for the charges against Sokha to be dropped and for the release of all journalists and citizens convicted or arrested while exercising their human rights.
“We are disappointed that the High Commissioner and some other delegates, based on politically motivated sources, have painted Cambodia’s civil and political rights with a dark brush, ignoring the real needs on the ground and the tragic path of hard-earned peace, stability and the development of Cambodia,” Sam Ol said.
“The release of Kem Sokha, under court conditions, was a humanitarian act under the prerogative power of the investigating judge. And the recent releases of a number of detainees came after the application of [the] rule of law, which is an obligation of responsible governments and of all states that are dignes de ce nom” [worthy of the name], he added.
Barbel Kofler, the German government’s Human Rights envoy, and the Swedish embassy in Cambodia welcomed the released of Sokha on bail and called for all charges against him to be dropped.
“I welcome the conditional release on bail of Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha. First step in right direction. Dropping all of the unfounded charges and removal of all restrictions are next,” Barbel Kofler wrote on Twitter. “Let’s stand for human rights, free press and reverse shrinking civic space.”
The Swedish embassy said on Wednesday: “Kem Sokha’s release is part of other recent positive steps taken towards political opponents and activists, which we expect to continue in order to ensure that the political opposition, media and civil society can carry out their roles freely.”
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said the release on bail of Kem Sokha under the supervision of the court came through the implementation of legal procedures. He rejected that it was the “first step in the right direction” or due to international pressure.
“The call to drop [Sokha’s] charges is absolutely impossible because this is the decision of the court based on complete arguments, witness [testimonies], evidence and legal basis,” he said.
Malin explained that dropping the charges against Sokha could only be done through court proceedings.
“[The case] needs more investigation, both for lifting the burden and adding more burden. If the investigation doesn’t find [a compelling] argument, and evidence and witnesses, enough to [justify] the procedure, the [court] would issue a ruling to drop the charges.
“But the prosecutor can file a complaint to the Appeal Court if he is not satisfied,” Malin said.
He said that if the investigative judge wouldn’t drop the charges during the investigation stage, the probe must be closed and the case sent to trial. The case could only be dropped if there was no basis to seek legal intervention.
“If the international community wants to help Kem Sokha, the only way possible is to participate in the legal procedure by giving testimony, arguments, new evidence, and with a strong legal basis, to get his case dropped,” he said.