The European Parliament has adopted a resolution calling for “overdue” sanctions against Cambodian leaders responsible for rights violations, and for E.U. nations to suspend bilateral aid to Cambodia, adding that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP “should not be considered the legitimate ruling party.”
The resolution, which was adopted on Thursday, urges the Cambodian government to reinstate and cease the “harassment, intimidation and politically motivated criminal charges” against the outlawed opposition CNRP, cancel prison sentences against nine party leaders, and release and drop charges against “all persons who have been detained for exercising their human rights.”
The six-page resolution includes a laundry list of condemnations over human rights abuses, and also calls on the government to “repeal all repressive laws,” “restore democracy” and ensure that the CNRP’s 2017 dissolution by the Supreme Court is “swiftly reversed” and the party’s 5,007 local councillors, who were stripped of their offices, are reinstated.
Citing ongoing mass trials against members and supporters of the banned CNRP, the European Parliament said the trials “staged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court” violate fair trial requirements under Cambodian and international laws.
Government spokesperson Phay Siphan on Friday said any calls for the Cambodian government to intervene in judicial matters were not actionable, adding that the European resolution was “just an appeal.”
“The accusation is that the court dissolved the party. It is the exclusive power of the court. The government can’t do anything,” Siphan said.
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan added that the European Parliament’s resolution was biased in favor of the CNRP, which he accused of being the cause of rights abuses and a democratic downturn in the country.
“We are not worried, but we also do not want that to happen,” Eysan said of the resolution. “[The E.U.] previously has always alleged that democracy is moving backward and there are human rights abuses, but that backsliding of democracy and human rights abuses are because of the former opposition party itself, which was dissolved by Cambodian law.”
“Cambodia [applies] Cambodian law, not European law,” he said. “And they are also foreign countries in Europe, why do you want to colonize Cambodia? It has nothing! At this time, there is no way to do that.”
Officials have regularly accused CNRP leaders of fomenting a coup, and criticized foreign governments’ interference in Cambodia’s affairs, although a treason case against CNRP president Kem Sokha is still pending more than three years after his arrest. Sokha, who has denied the allegation, is under court supervision.
Earlier this month, the E.U., alongside other foreign governments, issued a statement raising concerns over the Phnom Penh court sentencing nine CNRP leaders to 20 to 25 years in prison for a planned “attack” on the state. The E.U. said at the time that the case appeared to violate their due process rights. The nine are all living outside Cambodia and were tried in absentia.
In the resolution, the European Parliament said the sentences against CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy, party vice-presidents Mu Sochua and Eng Chhai Eang, and former lawmakers Ou Chanrith, Ho Vann, Long Ry, Men Sothavarin, Tioulong Saumura and Nut Romduol should be annulled.
Last year, the E.U. partially suspended preferential trade benefits with Cambodia over “serious and systematic” human rights abuses, including the dissolution of the CNRP and banning of 118 of its senior officials from politics for five years.
The European Parliament resolution specifically this week calls on E.U. nations to “suspend all bilateral financial support to the Cambodian Government and instead focus on civil society organisations and opposition parties.”
It also says “targeted sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, against Cambodian leaders and their economic interests are overdue.”
The Parliament urges the European Council, which includes E.U. nation’s leaders, to “adopt restrictive measures against [Cambodian] political leaders and leaders of the security forces responsible for serious human rights violations, the dissolution and subsequent repression of the opposition in Cambodia, and against their economic interests under the EU global human rights sanctions regime.”
Rights advocates and CNRP leaders have also called for economic sanctions against leaders and business allies of the Cambodian government. Since 2018, the U.S government has sanctioned two Cambodian generals, Kun Kim and Hing Bun Heang, and tycoon Try Pheap, over alleged corruption and rights violations.
Cambodia maintains that its government is a multiparty liberal democracy, with officials often citing the nation’s numerous minor political parties, none of which hold seats in parliament.
The ruling CPP swept the 2018 national election after the main opposition CNRP was banned from participating in the poll, making Cambodia a de-facto one-party state.
The European Parliament said in its resolution that elections can only be free and fair if the opposition is allowed to run. “[The previous] elections were neither free nor fair and the CPP should not be considered the legitimate ruling party of Cambodia,” it said.
The resolution also says the E.U. should not accept Phnom Penh as the planned location for this year’s Asia-Europe Meeting Summit “unless democracy is restored.”
The European Parliament voted 610 in favor of the resolution, 43 not in favor and 37 abstentions.
Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director, welcomed the European resolution in an emailed statement on Friday, calling it “an absolutely stunning rebuke to Cambodia for its appalling human rights record.”
The European parliamentarians, in passing the resolution, “showed strong support for a more muscular EU foreign policy” and “articulated very clear support for the EU’s action to partially suspend [preferential trade] benefits on human rights grounds.”