Published 08:00 April 25, 2016
European Parliament DROI delegation MEPs talk to New Europe after their trip to troubled Cambodia.
By Giacomo Fracassi
The human rights situation in Cambodia is deteriorating, and this led the European Parliament’s Human Rights committee to organise a visit to the country at the beginning of April.
During 2015, long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government approved a series of laws that restricted even more human rights in the country and also made harder for international NGOs to operate in Cambodia.
During the second half of 2015, the country saw an increase in arrest of members of the political opposition and activists. This culminated in November 2015 when Sam Rainsy, leader of opposition party Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was arrested based on a conviction for peaceful expression in 2011.
It is in this context of rampant corruption and steep drop of human rights, a delegation of the Human Rights committee of the European Parliament visited the country at the beginning of April. The European Union is one of the leading donors of international aid of Cambodia and the visit was made following to non-binding resolutions about the state of democracy in the country. The visit had the aim of evaluating what impact the EU’s policies and cooperation have on Cambodia’s human rights record.
During their stay, the delegation met the Minister of Justice, State Secretary of Home Affairs ministry, a representative of Parliament, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs committee, CNRP party, NGOs, the business community, and victims and representatives of the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
One of the member of the European Parliament’s delegation was MEP Petras Auštrevičius. He commented on the problems facing the opposition:
“The CNRP is constantly facing great pressures from the ruling coalition. Intimidation and harassment against party members and activists became very widespread. As a consequence of all [this] former Chairman of CNRP Mr. Sam Rainsy is in exile.”
The delegation noted how the government’s grip on power is highly coercive and restricts oppositions and NGOs. The visiting MEPs believe that Hun Sen and his government don’t hesitate to use violence. As an example, two opposition MP were attacked and beaten.
“The results of the governing CPP are getting worse, and the party reacts defaming the opposition, monopolizing the medias and restricting the important work of NGOs” said Barbara Lochbihler, another member of the EU delegation.
The head of the delegation, Austrian MEP Josef Weidenholzer said that “There is an urgent need to resume the culture of dialogue”.
Other discussions involved the new laws on NGOs and restriction on civil liberty but the delegation also had an insight over the new electoral law. This law should be in effect for new election in either 2017 or 2018. According to the delegation, the law may have the effect of silencing opposition, especially in the run-up up to the elections. The situation in Cambodia may deteriorate even further and the visiting delegates are considering asking the EEAS to send an observation mission for the upcoming elections.
This opinion is supported also by Lochbihler: “In my meetings with trade unionists and members of NGO I learned that they fear restrictions in the freedom of strike and the freedom of assembly. This is very alarming. Having regard to this difficult situation it would be necessary that the European Union organizes a monitoring of the elections.”
Auštrevičius also stated that “We have no right to be silent and continue policy towards Cambodia as usual. We must put conditionality towards EU-Cambodia relations in general and EU assistance in particular.”