Self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy addressed the European Parliament’s human rights committee late on Wednesday night, urging the body to impose stricter conditions on its assistance and engagement with Cambodia in order to ensure legitimate commune elections in 2017 and national elections in 2018.
Rainsy, who fled the country in November after a court issued a warrant for his arrest in a defamation case, said given the “spiralling” human rights situation and harassment of the opposition party, upcoming free and fair elections were the only hope for a peaceful resolution to the current scenario.
“A simple warning is needed from the international community and the EU that you would not recognise a government elected into power in this kind of environment,” he said, speaking to the committee in French.
Rainsy added that threats would no longer work and sanctions aimed at curbing the travel and freezing of assets of ruling party leaders would be effective, saying there was a “need to name and shame”. “I have followed all the discussions and it is all about diplomacy, but it falls short,” he said. “It is increasingly unacceptable.”
The EU pledged $1.8 billion in assistance over five years in 2014, including about $11 million to fund voter registration and education ahead of next year’s commune elections.
Rainsy found a vociferous supporter in committee member Petras Auštreviius, a member of parliament from Lithuania, who not only criticised Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government but also the local EU delegation’s response to the current situation. “If you believe you can have a nice dialogue with those in power and bring change – prove it. I don’t see any proof,” he said.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Rainsy’s statement was not surprising, given that he regularly portrayed a negative picture of Cambodia when speaking at international forums. “He does not seem to belong to Cambodia. He does not want Cambodian prosperity,” Siphan said. “He is very different than other opposition leaders in the world.”
He said Rainsy’s suggestion that the EU enforce strict conditions on Cambodia could not impinge on the country’s sovereignty. “Their aid belongs to them and they are a partner to build credibility and improve rule of law,” he said. “But we also understand that money cannot buy our principles.”
Questioning the effectiveness of Rainsy’s sanctions suggestion, independent human rights consultant Billy Chia-Lung Tai said the international community had always erred on the side of caution when choosing whether to use the carrot or stick approach.
He added that pushing the international community for punitive action on the ruling party would be effective only if donors and foreign governments followed up on the threat.
“The problem with the international community is that they have never followed up on their threats in the past. So, what makes this time different?” he said.