The decision of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to ease the conditions of detention of Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha is a first step in the right direction. However, Kem Sokha remains under court supervision, his case is not closed and he is banned from engaging in any political activities.
The European Union reiterates the importance of the Cambodian authorities taking immediate action to open the political space in the country, to establish the necessary conditions for a credible, democratic opposition and initiate a process of national reconciliation through genuine and inclusive dialogue. In particular, we expect Kem Sokha to be fully released and his political rights reinstated so that he can play a full part in political life. We also expect the Cambodian authorities to reinstate the political rights of all opposition members banned from political life and to fully release all opposition members, supporters and activists recently put under detention.
Maja KOCIJANCIC(link sends e-mail) Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations+32 (0)2 29 86570+32 (0)498 984 425
“My daughters would rather I take a break from politics. They are worried about me,” Sochua admitted when we had lunch together before she left on her way home. “But they’ve decided to support me as a woman defending democracy and human rights. And yes, I’ll miss the grandchildren.”
In a few days, a 65-year-old grandmother will freely board a plane on a journey to probable imprisonment in a foul Cambodian jail. Mu Sochua, one of Cambodia’s most influential politicians, is the vice president of the outlawed opposition party trying to return democracy to Cambodia. She carries a U.S. passport but is under no illusion that this will protect her from the ire of Hun Sen, the strongman of Cambodia.
He has marked her as one of the country’s most dangerous traitors and has ordered the Cambodian army and police to use force to stop her and her colleagues from entering the country by land, sea or air. But Sochua and her peers thoughtfully announced their date of return in advance: Nov. 9, Cambodian Independence Day.AD
“This is the moment to go back,” Sochua told me. “Inside Cambodia, fear is everywhere. I can’t accept that Hun Sen continues as a cruel dictator.”
Sochua is a reminder of the unbearable personal sacrifices required to protect and promote democracy in this age of brutal tyrants, especially for women. We met decades ago when she opened the first nongovernmental organization for women’s rights in peacetime Cambodia, tackling domestic violence, human trafficking and gender equality under the law. Over the years, we shared our enjoyment of gossip, mutual admiration of Cambodian architecture and her hopes to pull the country closer to the ideals she absorbed in the United States.
Sochua was a practical idealist in a country traumatized by the Khmer Rouge genocide. After her parents sent all four children overseas to study when the Vietnam War spread into Cambodia in 1970, Sochua ended up in the Bay Area, graduating from San Francisco State and earning a master’s degree in social work from the University of California at Berkeley. She was on the cusp of the successful immigrant path — bright career, professional security and family.AD
Instead, she spent the next five years on the Thai border helping Cambodian refugees, honoring her parents who had disappeared under the Khmer Rouge. At the border camps, she met her husband, Scott Leiper, a Khmer-speaking American who was working to reunite children with their parents. They moved to the broken mess that was Cambodia and, with a family of three daughters, threw themselves into the country’s recovery: Leiper with the United Nations, Sochua from NGOs to politics.
As a Cambodian woman, Sochua faced huge pushback in the male-dominated political arena. Her daughters noticed what she was going through — the rough behavior, betrayals and threats of violence. Despite the obstacles, she won a seat in parliament and then became the first woman to head the Ministry for Women, chalking up success with new laws and the addition of women throughout government.
But Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge officer, pushed out his co-prime minister to rule Cambodia on his own and add to the spectacular corruption that had made him, his family and croniesmultimillionaires in a poor nation. Sochua left the government to join the opposition. The country was looking for change and, in 2017, her party — the Cambodia National Rescue Party — scored an unexpected victory in local elections. The CNRP appeared headed for an even better showing in the upcoming national elections.
Australia and the world made a promise to the Cambodian people, to stand up for human rights, peace and democracy. But 28 years on, the world has failed to keep its promise. Instead, Hun Sen’s regime has attacked human rights; killed democracy; given away the Cambodian people’s sovereignty; accumulated secret wealth overseas; and undermined prosperity in our region.
Jakarta: Federal Labor MP Julian Hill has launched an extraordinary attack on Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, declaring the dictator has sold out his country to China and warning the rising superpower is using the same tactics it used to militarise the South China Sea.
Mr Hill, whose seat of Bruce is home to one of the largest Cambodian-Australian populations, said that on the eve of the 28th anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords that ended Cambodia’s long and bloody civil war, democracy was dying.
Billions of dollars of Chinese investment have transformed the town of Sihanoukville in CambodiaThirty-nine found dead in truck in Essex, UK
The MP recently spent a week in Cambodia on a self-funded study tour where he met with civil rights groups, union activists and the remnants of the now-banned political opposition.
“Australia and the world made a promise to the Cambodian people, to stand up for human rights, peace and democracy. But 28 years on, the world has failed to keep its promise,” he told Parliament.
“Instead, Hun Sen’s regime has attacked human rights; killed democracy; given away the Cambodian people’s sovereignty; accumulated secret wealth overseas; and undermined prosperity in our region.”
In a speech that goes much further than the Labor leadership has been willing to in criticising the links between China and Cambodia, Mr Hill said “I don’t mean this as anti-China rhetoric … must be honest and say that I do not see what Hun Sen has let China do in Cambodia as positive”.
“It [Chinese investment] may be couched as BRI [Belt and Road Infrastructure investment], but it shows all the signs of Hun Sen allowing the development of naval and air facilities to facilitate Chinese military planning. The same salami slicing tactics that the world saw in the South China Sea are at work.”
Sihanoukville, which has seen a huge amount of Chinese investment, is “like the fantasies about the Wild West of old. Casinos. Booze. Guns. Riches. Women”.
Hun Sen won all 125 seats in the parliament in elections in July 2018 and has banned the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party. Former leader Kem Sokha is under house arrest in Phnom Penh, other leaders including Sam Rainsy and Mu Sochua are in exile while many activists and politicians have been jailed.
Rainsy has recently threatened to return to Cambodia on November 9 to lead a popular uprising, prompting threats of violence and military intervention from Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for 34 years.
Against this back drop, Hill said Australia’s current approach to “just keep talking” to the Hun Sen regime was insufficient.
Hill said Australia should ramp up sanctions against Cambodia, get back into the “information game” through Radio Australia and short wave radio and push back by using our considerable soft power resources.