Amid a review of possible trade sanctions against his country, Prime Minister Hun Sen said he hoped to be “treated fairly” by Europe, while Czech premier Andrej Babis emphasized that human rights and democracy were his nation’s foreign policy priority.
The two premiers held a joint press conference in Prague on Monday as part of Hun Sen’s five-day visit to central and eastern Europe.
The E.U. is currently mulling a suspension of its “Everything But Arms” duty-free trade deal with Cambodia over alleged violations of political and human rights.
“In relation to human rights and democracy, that is the point of priority of our country’s foreign policy, I guarantee His Excellency the prime minister,” Babis said, according to a live Khmer translation of the press conference.
He added that “[I] admire that Cambodia has cooperated with the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, and we are happy about the production of this report.”
Rhona Smith, the U.N.’s human rights envoy to Cambodia, has issued regular reports detailing various rights violations in the country that have drawn the ire of the government.
The E.U. is scheduled to release a report into the findings of its EBA review as soon as next month, with a decision on the possible suspension due in February. The E.U. is Cambodia’s largest export market with a 39 percent share.
“For the Czech Republic, the EBA is an important tool,” Babis said, though he added that “Cambodia has shown a positive stance in relation to the human rights issues that many countries are worried about.”
Hun Sen said during the press conference that he expected continued support from the Czech Republic as the E.U. deliberates on trade sanctions.
“I would like to thank the Czech Republic, which reiterated its position to support Cambodia in the framework of the European Union. I hope that countries in Europe will treat Cambodia fairly,” Hun Sen said.
During his European visit from October 13-17, Hun Sen is also scheduled to meet the leaders of Hungary and Bulgaria.
During Hun Sen’s state visit to Hungary in June, the government’s Press and Quick Reaction Unit issued an article claiming that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had pledged “to take Cambodia’s side” in the EBA review.
“Hungary will always side [with] Cambodia as Hungary does not want to see any political, trade and economic mess,” the government’s article said.
The E.U. embarked on its review of the EBA in February with European Commission vice president Federica Mogherini saying that “[o]ver the last eighteen months, we have seen the deterioration of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law in Cambodia.”
The main opposition CNRP was dissolved in November 2017 by Supreme Court order. Eight months later, the ruling CPP swept all 125 National Assembly seats in a national election marked by the absence of its main political challenger.
(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)