Cambodian NA Reacts to Assertion on the Situation of Human Rights and Democracy in Cambodia

AKP Phnom Penh, November 19, 2020 — The following is the Statement of the Spokesperson of the National Assembly of the Kingdom of Cambodia in response to the assertion made by a few U.S. lawmakers on the situation of human rights and democracy in Cambodia dated Nov. 18:

“The National Assembly of the Kingdom of Cambodia highly appreciates concerns from all quarters, including from the United States, on the wellbeing of our people, particularly on the development of human rights and democracy, an ongoing process that the Royal Government of Cambodia has been striving to promote for our people who have survived untold abuse of human rights and deprivation of all freedoms, in nearly three decades of wars and a genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime.

However, we feel badly wronged and deeply disappointed by a few U.S. law makers who called for unjust punitive actions against the current Cambodian Government for what they labelled as ‘deterioration of human rights and democracy in Cambodia’. The letter published online dated 16 November 2020 addressed to the Honorable Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in this regard is fraught with distorted facts, bias and double standard assertions.

Therefore, we are compelled to respond and draw public attention at home and overseas to the reality of Cambodia and truthful facts on Cambodia’s painful and arduous journey to reach the present state of steady socio-economic progress, thanks to peace, stability that we are firmly committed to protect.

First, Prime Minister Hun Sen has indeed been leading the country for over 35 years; but his long rule is not unprecedented, at least in Southeast Asia. Contrary to the unfair assertion, his strength to remain in power comes from the strong majority of the people who voted, elections after elections, in support for his progressive leadership and ability to bring about sustained peace and growing prosperity to the people of Cambodia. His “Win-Win Policy” in 1998 resulted in the complete disintegration of the Khmer Rouge politically and militarily, reconciliation and a unified country for the first time in more than 500 years of foreign interference and super power contestation, including in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

Second, claiming that none of Cambodia’s elections is free and fair in which the Cambodian People’s Party has always emerged victor is a gross denial of the true facts. The general elections in Cambodia, since the first brokered by the United Nations in 1993, have all been observed and generally assessed as transparent, free and fair by thousands of local and foreign observers. The 1998 election for example, was described as a “miracle on the Mekong” by the head of the U.S. observer team, the late congressman Stephen J. Solarz. The 2013 election was regarded as very free and fair with the opposition winning 26 seats and the ruling party losing out 23 seats. The U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh called on all political parties to accept the results of the communal election of 2017, describing it as orderly and peaceful and an important milestone in Cambodia’s continued democratic development. The refusal to recognise the legitimacy of the past elections in Cambodia also reflects contempt for the will of the Cambodian voters. The 2018 election, participated by 20 politically parties, was peaceful, orderly, free and fair with a high turnout of around 83%, despite the opposition’s call for an electoral boycott. This figure attests not only to aspiration of our people as a whole to see the continuity of the country on the path of development, peace, stability and democracy under the rule of law, but also as much to their renewed confidence in the leadership of the ruling party in its efforts to achieve and promote these goals.

Third, the dissolution of the main opposition party and legal actions against its leaders Mr. Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, have been carried out for their acts of collusion to topple the legitimate Cambodian

Government, a serious crime punishable by Cambodian laws, just as it is prescribed by the law of many other countries around the globe.

The legal measures taken are neccessary to uphold the rule of law and prevent power-grab through undemocratic means such as inciting public uprising and instigating xenophobia through the use of fake documents and fake news.

Fourth, on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, it should be noted Cambodian people from all walks of life have unobstructed and easy access to news media and social media. Although still a democracy in progress, Cambodia has hundreds of media outlets which operate freely in accordance with the law. Foreign TV and radio channels including CNN, Skynews, Radio Free Asia and Voice of America are accessible throughout the countries. Furthermore, we accord great importance to support, protect, and promote the freedom of expression and free press as guaranteed by the Constitution and Law on Press Regime, which ensure the independence of the press without prior censorship and with the right to confidential source of information. However, freedom of speech is not a blank check for attacking the integrity of other people and stirring up social discord and unrest which endanger public order, safety and national security. Political discourse and comment on public affairs with insult, incitement to commit a felony, call for rebellion against a democratically elected government or ill-intended spread of fake news and disinformation do not equate freedom of expression and legitimate speech. If left unchecked, they become an issue with chilling consequences on law and order. Thus, some legitimate measures taken against wrongful deeds within applicable laws are imperative to protect the rights of every citizen to live without fear, hatred, and discrimination. The voice of law-abiding citizens must be heard loud and clear, and defended. Those who have been arrested and have faced legal actions, have violated the provisions of Cambodia’s law to maintain public order, safety and national security. Therefore, the steps taken cannot be construed as a clampdown on the freedom of expression.

Fifth, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s comments that “if one emerges, one gets hit” should not be distorted as indicating a crackdown on the freedom of speech. His statement is a reflection of his strong determination to prevent actions that would jeopardise social order and Cambodia’s hard-earned peace, stability and security.

Sixth, as mentioned in their letter, these few U.S. lawmakers have subscribed to the negative narrative of the Human Rights Watch (HRW), whose credibility was put to serious question in 2004 by a former UN Assistant Secretary General and two Nobel Peace Laureates, along with over 100 scholars, who published an open letter criticizing the HRW. This organisation has long been denounced by many for bias and double-standard application of human right norms, with its reliance on information sources such as the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, which are far from being neutral and independent. It is obvious that the reactions to Cambodia’s recent political development are not about the human right values, considering the different treatment towards many other nations on the question of democracy and respect for fundamental freedoms.

Seventh, it is inevitable that priorities on human rights are perceived through the different contextual lenses of each country. For Cambodia, promotion of human rights is firmly anchored on the agenda of the government. First and foremost, peace and stability have ensured our people’s steady move toward their full freedom from want, while at the same time enable them to truly and effectively exercise their democratic rights. Having ratified almost all core international human right instruments, Cambodia remains steadfast in advancing human rights, sustainable development, and the rule of law as well as upholding its hard-won peace and preventing the recurrence of its past tragedy.”

By C. Nika