Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - US draft bill ties aid to crisis, demands end to ‘violence and harassment’

US draft bill ties aid to crisis, demands end to ‘violence and harassment’

Senator John Boozman speaks during a Senate Appropriations Financial Services hearing to review budget spending at the US Office of Personnel Management in Washington last month. AFP
Senator John Boozman speaks during a Senate Appropriations Financial Services hearing to review budget spending at the US Office of Personnel Management in Washington last month. AFP

US draft bill ties aid to crisis, demands end to ‘violence and harassment’

A US Senate committee has inserted language into upcoming legislation that would block $77.8 million in aid to Cambodia unless the government ceases its “violence and harassment” against human rights workers and the political opposition.

The appropriations committee bill, sponsored by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said the fiscal year 2017 funding – which includes more than $33.6 million for health programs – would not be made available if they fail to receive certain assurances from the State Department.

“None of the funds appropriated by this Act may be made available for assistance for Cambodia unless the Secretary of State determines and reports to the appropriate congressional committees that the Government of Cambodia has ceased violence and harassment against civil society in Cambodia, including the political opposition,” the bill reads.

Four human rights workers and an electoral official have been behind bars for more than two months for their alleged roles in a purported affair involving Cambodian National Rescue Party acting president Kem Sokha, who himself has been holed up at party headquarters for more than a month to avoid arrest.

On Friday, the Ministry of Justice formally requested that the National Assembly lift the immunity of two lawmakers it seeks to charge over allegations related to “prostitution” for allegedly facilitating the trysts.

News of the potential withholding of US aid comes less than a week after Prime Minister Hun Sen lashed out at foreign donors he said were using aid as leverage in the ongoing political crisis, saying he could not be “easily pressured” and that “Cambodia dares to play [its cards] and is not afraid to lose”.

Beyond the current political situation, the US bill also stakes out fresh ground on the Khmer Rouge tribunal, saying that future funds will only be delivered on the condition that the court moves forward with controversial Case 003 against alleged former naval commander Meas Muth.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has consistently warned that moving forward with cases 003 and 004 could risk plunging the country into civil war.

Government spokesperson Phay Siphan yesterday said the prime minister would not be swayed by the US government’s threats or “bribery”.

“[It is] laughable that they use the money to bribe the rule of law … it is a form of corruption,” Siphan said. “We don’t want to see high-ranking people getting away from the rule of law … Human rights workers are not untouchable people like the mafia.

“We are against impunity. Why do they protect Kem Sokha and the other people through bribery? It is the NGOs who abuse the law.”

He added that while vulnerable Cambodians may be affected by aid cuts, the government “had no choice” but to remain firm in their stance; however, opposition spokesperson Yim Sovann urged the ruling party to heed the message from the US.

“That reaction and statement from the US is very clear – the ruling party should reconsider their political stance and the political situation right now,” Sovann said. “They must respect human rights; they must not oppress the opposition or human rights and environmental activists.

“We should sit down and talk and find a solution to end the political crisis.”

Regional analyst Carl Thayer said the statement could be the start of other sanctions, but they needed to be directly aimed at the prime minister if they were going to have any impact.

“Cambodia’s Achilles’ heel is that it needs access to the US for their garment industry … they can’t sell to China, obviously,” he said. Thayer added the US would pursue a human rights agenda even if it meant pushing Cambodia into the arms of China.

“[Hun Sen] will brazen it out. Some of this is going to be public posturing… but it’s also calculating … he knows he can’t get too isolated,” he said.

Human rights analyst Billy Tai pointed out that the bill, which is still in committee, could face multiple obstacles before becoming enshrined in law and that while it was a “strong statement”, it could amount to “an empty threat”.

“The government is quite smart at how they deal with and manipulate donors,” Tai said. Tai said by the time the bill took effect, the current batch of political prisoners would likely be released, only to be followed by a fresh cycle of political crises.

“The intimidation factor is incredible; the international donors almost seem to be ignoring that. The underlying issues are never really dealt with,” he said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Analyst: Rainsy blocked from boarding flight 'an excuse'

    THAI Airways not allowing Sam Rainsy on its route from Paris to Bangkok on Thursday is being used as an excuse to keep his standing among fellow coup plotters and his uninformed supporters as flights to non-Asean countries are available, an analyst said on Friday.

  • Rainsy lands in Malaysia

    Cambodian opposition figure Sam Rainsy arrived in Kuala Lumpur airport on Saturday afternoon after boarding a flight from Paris, where he has been living for more than four years. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesperson Koy Kuong said on Saturday that Cambodia respected

  • Touch: Rainsy will never return

    Sam Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has claimed it has achieved 70 per cent of its struggle to find a solution to the current political situation in the Kingdom. Just before boarding a plane at Charles de Gaulle

  • Sokha continues call for dropping of charge after bail conditions reduced

    Not satisfied with having his bail conditions reduced, allowing him to travel freely in Cambodia, Kem Sokha says he wants his charge totally dropped. “As an innocent man who has been in detention for two years even without being found guilty, I continue to demand

  • MEPs' call for Rainsy's safety not European Parliament position

    The European Parliament said on Friday that a statement by 56 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) calling for guarantees of Sam Rainsy’s freedom and safety should he return to Cambodia did not represent its position. Delphine Colard, the European Parliament’s press officer told

  • Sar Kheng: Rainsy return not blocked

    Minister of Interior Sar Kheng clarified that Cambodia had never blocked Sam Rainsy from returning to the Kingdom. However, he said Cambodia reserved the right to take legal action as allowed by law against activities aimed at destroying the Kingdom. “No one blocked the return