In a speech marking the anniversary of Cambodia’s accession to Asean on Monday, Prime Minister Hun Sen lashed out at the often critical Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights, describing them as a “gangster group”.
The regional lawmakers have vocally opposed recent measures in the government’s ongoing political crackdown, criticising the decision to forcibly dissolve the only viable opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party. Before the dissolution, Chairperson Charles Santiago said the move would result in “one-party rule in Cambodia”.
Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights “is not part of Asean government. They are the opposition body. Where are they from?” Hun Sen asked in a speech at a graduation ceremony on Monday. Cambodia joined the regional body on April 30, 1999.
“They just use the name to colour [others in a bad light]. Asean this, Asean that. That group, they are a so-called gangster group,” he said. “Asean members would not do any statement related to another member’s internal affairs.”
The parliamentarians’ board, which includes former Cambodian opposition figure Mu Sochua, is mainly made up of opposition politicians. However, some, like Charles Chong of Singapore and Eva Kusuma Sundari of Indonesia, represent their respective countries’ ruling parties.
“APHR is made up of duly elected representatives of the citizens of ASEAN member states, from both ruling and opposition parties around the ASEAN region,” the board said in an email on Monday.
They said the group is dedicated to the principles of the Asean charter, which include obligations to democracy and human rights. “APHR was formed, in part, because of ASEAN’s unwillingness to tackle difficult issues and its reliance on claims of ‘non-interference’ as a smokescreen for inaction,” the statement continued.
Hun Sen went on to say there were four “major” reasons that Cambodia joined Asean back in April of 1999. The first, he said, was the “principle of internal non-interference”.
“It is very important. There is no small or big country, there is no rich or poor country,” he said.”We have the same rights.”
Issues of universal consensus, economic integration and diplomacy were the other key factors in joining.
Sochua acknowledged that joining the bloc had helped establish Cambodia’s presence in the “global scene”.
“Tourism and trade within ASEAN … have been enhanced,” she said in a message, adding that membership boosts “credibility” for foreign aid.
However, she added, “Cambodia has not complied in its obligations on human rights and freedoms”, calling for the body to pressure Hun Sen’s regime.
Sochua also said Cambodia could have benefited even more from its association with Asean, but had failed due to “bad governance, widespread corruption and incompetence of its national institutions”.
Paul Chambers, director of research at the Institute of South East Asian Affairs, said any scolding of Cambodia from Asean over its human rights situation would be “superficial”. Rather, Chambers said the association has served to legitimise the ruling party.
“Ultimately, Cambodia’s membership in ASEAN has been useful as a means of enhancing Cambodian legitimacy as well as enhancing economic ties with ASEAN neighbors,” he said in an email.
Updated: 6:59am, Tuesday 1 May 2018