The European Union expressed “serious concerns” about the Cambodian political situation during a UN Human Rights Council meeting on Wednesday, drawing a sharp rebuke from the Kingdom’s delegation.
Cambodia’s ongoing political crackdown has seen the main opposition party dissolved and its leader arrested for alleged treason, as well as the shuttering of media outlets and pressure on civil society.
“The EU remains deeply concerned about the continuing deterioration of the political and human rights situation in Cambodia and the escalating repression of the opposition, civil society and the media,” said the EU representative.
“The EU reiterates that an electoral process from which the main opposition party has been arbitrarily excluded is not legitimate,” the representative continued, calling for the reinstatement of the Cambodia National Rescue Party and its elected officials.
The Cambodian Foreign Ministry and EU representatives also held a private meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, releasing a joint statement reaffirming their “commitment to deepen their relationship”.
However, in the statement the EU again expressed “serious concerns” over the political situation and went on to call for the Cambodian government to “engage in a constructive dialogue with the opposition”. The statement closed with a warning from the EU, reminding Cambodia that the preferential trade agreement Cambodia enjoys with the EU is dependent on its respect for human rights.
Dr Astrid Noren-Nilsson, a political scientist who specialises in Cambodia, said the meeting appeared to have ended in a “stalemate”, with both sides reiterating their positions but neither giving any ground.
“The EU keeps referring to the possibility of playing its trump card – suspending its EBA [Everything but Arms trade] agreement with Cambodia – but there can be no more illusions that the threat alone would make the Cambodian government budge,” Noren-Nilsson said via email.
Genoveva Hernandez Uriz, chargée d’affaires for the EU delegation to Cambodia, said the EU must take a “long-term” perspective in its approach to Cambodia. She noted the progress Cambodia has made in realms like increased public school enrolment and decreased childhood mortality rates.
“The European Commission . . . is closely monitoring the situation in Cambodia to assess compliance with the relevant human rights and labour rights Conventions and has stepped up its engagement,” she said in an emailed statement.