International pressure continues to mount on Cambodia’s government, with the European Parliament yesterday calling the EU’s funding for the country into question over a recent raft of “politically motivated” charges against opposition members and civil society figures.
The motion – endorsed by members of Europe’s legislature – came after the United Nations released details of a phone conversation between Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who voiced his concerns about the “widespread intimidation and harassment” to the Kingdom’s top diplomat.
It also followed a joint statement issued by 41 international NGOs who called on the government to uphold its obligations under international human rights law.
Meanwhile, four rights workers and one election official are in detention on allegations of bribery stemming from a purported sex scandal involving Sokha. The rights group Licadho recently classified a total of 29 people as “political prisoners”.
The EU motion, the fourth condemning the Cambodian government in the last two years, called for an immediate end to the “judicial harassment” of opposition party members and human rights defenders. In light of the situation, the motion says the amount of EU financial assistance to Cambodia should be dependent on improvements of the country’s human rights situation.
The EU plans to disburse about $66 million to various Cambodian state agencies this year. It has also pledged €10 million ($11.3 million) to support election preparations and has pledged €410 million between 2014 and 2020.
The motion asks EU member states, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security, the European External Action Service and the European Commission to set “clear benchmarks” for Cambodia to meet for the upcoming election that are consistent with international law on free expression, association and assembly.
“We call on the government to end intimidation and harassment and release all peaceful human rights advocates in the country,” said Christos Stylianides, an MEP from Cyprus with the European People’s Party, during the debate.
Asked to respond yesterday, Foreign Affairs spokesman Chum Sounry said he had “no comment at this moment”, though referred to a June 2 statement by the ministry that rebuked similar concerns expressed by European embassies in Cambodia and stated the government was abiding by the country’s laws.
Sounry also declined to comment about the telephone conversation on Tuesday evening between UN Secretary-General Ban and Foreign Minister Sokhon.
According to a UN statement, Ban expressed concerns about reports of “widespread intimidation, harassment and arrests of civil society actors, the media, staff and members of the National Election Commission, and members of the opposition”.
“The Secretary-General conveyed his hope that the Government of Cambodia would ensure full respect for human rights, including the freedoms of expression, association, and assembly,” the statement read. “He called for the resumption of the culture of dialogue between the Cambodia People’s Party and the Cambodia National Rescue Party.”
The CPP has been accused of manipulating the judiciary to target CNRP members, critical elements of civil society and members of the National Election Committee with legal cases as a way to neutralise perceived threats ahead of coming elections.
Sokha, the deputy opposition head, is holed up in the party’s headquarters, while Rainsy, the party’s president, last year fled abroad to Europe.
Rainsy has since used his proximity to Brussels – the EU’s headquarters – to push motions into the continent’s legislature.
Meanwhile, a coalition of 41 NGOs, including Action Aid, Act Alliance, Oxfam and Heinrich Boll Stiftung, on Wednesday joined the chorus of organisations questioning the motivation behind the slew of cases.
In a letter to Cambodia’s foreign minister, the group said it appeared “a number of civil society organisations that promote accountability and transparency have been considered by the government as a threat to the stability of Cambodia”.
They asked authorities to ensure “there is no judicial harassment against Cambodian citizens who are working to protect people’s rights”.