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NGOs see ‘opportunity’ for pressure at summit

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Southeast Asian leaders join hands as they pose for a photograph at the opening ceremony at Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders' summit in Manila in April this year. Mark R. Cristino/AFP

NGOs see ‘opportunity’ for pressure at summit

Human rights organisations are calling on states to take the upcoming Asean summit on Sunday as an opportunity to pressure Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to reverse what they characterise as the country’s ongoing backslide into authoritarianism.

According to a press release, Prime Minister Hun Sen will attend several Asean meetings between Sunday and Tuesday, and will meet the prime ministers of Australia, India, China and Russia and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.

In a speech on Wednesday, the premier announced that he would discuss the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s budget with Guterres, but gave no other indication of his aims for the summit.

NGOs, meanwhile, see the summit as an opportunity for the international community to advocate for Hun Sen to reverse what has been widely criticised as a crackdown on the opposition, independent media and civil society in Cambodia.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said he expected no public statements condemning Cambodia’s political situation after the summit, and acknowledged it “may be a struggle to keep like-minded dictators from Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand from offering too much praise for Hun Sen’s brutal crackdown”.

However, he stressed that in bilateral meetings governments should “strongly demand that he immediately end the wave of repression of the political opposition [Cambodia National Rescue Party] and civil society”.

Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the upcoming summit was “a golden opportunity” for “principled leaders of democratic countries . . . to voice their serious concerns about the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation”.

“It is imperative that this pressure continues if Cambodian democracy is to survive this onslaught,” she said.

Mu Sochua, a deputy president of the CNRP who fled the country after being warned of her imminent arrest, said she was “certain” concerns would be raised by foreign governments, and that if made “face to face”, would not go ignored.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry could not be reached yesterday.

Additional reporting by Ben Sokhean

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