Cambodia: The Interpreter, Playing the long game against Hun Sen

Op-Ed: Cambodia: Playing
the long game
against Hun Sen

CHARLES DUNST

European Union pressure
is working, and revoking
trade preferences might
allow Cambodians to
escape dynastic rule.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Future of Asia Conference, Tokyo, 30 May 2019 (Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Future of Asia Conference, Tokyo, 30 May 2019 (Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images) Published 26 Nov 2019 12:30  


To the casual observer, it may appear that Cambodian strongman Hun Sen is letting up, undoing some recent repression. This month, Hun Sen released Kem Sokha, the founder and co-leader of the main opposition party, after more than two years of house arrest, days later also ordering the release of more than 70 opposition activists arrested for “plotting to overthrow the government”.

These moderate relaxations are a direct response to European Union pressure, despite ruling party rhetoric suggesting the opposite. Since February 2019, the EU, citing “a deterioration of democracy [and] respect for human rights”, has been moving towards revoking Cambodia’s membership in the Everything But Arms (EBA) trade scheme, which allows the duty-free export of certain goods – textiles, footwear, and agricultural products – to Europe. The bloc will issue its final decision in February 2020. Cambodia, if removed, will experience what one analysis described as “a decline that could send the sector into free-fall and impact on the livelihoods of millions of Cambodians.” Meanwhile, the US Senate is considering a bill that would revoke Cambodia’s membership in Washington’s own preferential trade scheme.

Elders generally credit
Hun Sen with delivering
Cambodia from the
Khmer Rouge period,
but young people do
not feel as if they owe
him anything, instead
blaming him for the
state of the economy,
along with lagging
development and corruption.

Hun Sen is a skilled maneuverer, doing just enough over the years to satisfy the West, which in turn helps prop up Cambodia’s economy, imbuing him with some much-needed legitimacy. He has a long history of making short-term concessions, only to roll them back soon after, rather than implement any real change. This is perhaps best evidenced by his cynical treatment of Sokha, who despite being “free” is still banned from politics, and set to be put on trial for treason.

Western efforts have yet to bring about the peaceful, inclusive, and democratic Cambodia promised by the 1991 Paris Peace Accords. The US and Europe have struggled to counter Hun Sen effectively, instead seeking his cooperation on issues of mutual concern, hoping to keep Cambodia at least vaguely in the Western sphere of influence. But now, with Cambodia a codified one-party state deeply in China’s pocket – and Hun Sen lashing out against the EU – the West needs a new future-focused strategy, one that holds the Cambodian government accountable for human rights violations and other breaches. As a first step, Brussels and Washington should revoke their respective preferential trade statuses for Cambodia.

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Statement by the Spokesperson on the latest developments in Cambodia

Statement by the Spokesperson on the latest developments in Cambodia

Brussels, 11/11/2019 – 08:51, UNIQUE ID: 191111_2 Statements by the Spokesperson

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

Adam KAZNOWSKI(link sends e-mail)Press Officer for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy+32 (0) 2 29 89359+32 (0)460 768 088

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Can Cambodia’s opposition keep pressure on PM Hun Sen?

Opposition leader Kem Sokha has been released from house arrest but the crackdown on dissent continues.

Inside Story11 Nov 2019 20:17 GMT CambodiaAsia Pacific

Cambodia‘s Prime Minister Hun Sen has silenced nearly all voices of dissent in recent years.

His government shut down independent media and dissolved the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

CNRP leader Kem Sokha was freed after a year of house arrest, but he still faces severe restrictions and is banned from leaving the country.

His colleagues, including party co-founder Sam Rainsy, are facing challenges of their own as they try to return to Cambodia from exile.

This is happening as the government faces international condemnation for undermining democracy and human rights.

Can they maintain the pressure despite a government crackdown?

Presenter: Nastasya Tay

Guests:

Sam Rainsy – acting president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party

Graham Ong-Webb – research fellow at S Rajaratnam School of International Studies

Benjamin Zawacki – independent Southeast Asia analyst and author

Source: Al Jazeera News

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Hun Sen’s Cambodia could be in trouble

Hun Sen’s Cambodia could be in trouble

Jason Thomas 3 June 2019

His victory came after a political crackdown which saw the dissolution of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), the detention of its leader Kem Sokha, and the banning from political activity of 118 senior CNRP members.

Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia for more than 34 years, and the EU Foreign Affairs Council has deemed the recent 2018 elections as “not legitimate”.


This file photo shows Cambodian female workers sewing at a factory in Sihanouk province, some 230 kilometres southwest of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (Tang Chhin Sothy / AFP Photo)

Op-Ed: The ASEAN Post

There is growing concern about the European Union’s (EU) proposed suspension of its Everything But Arms (EBA) trade agreement with Cambodia, a move which could set the country back years.

Established in 2001, EBA gives 49 of the world’s least developed countries tax-free access to vital EU markets for their exports except for arms and ammunition.

While the EU has always warned that EBA preferences can be removed if beneficiary countries fail to respect core United Nations (UN) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions, there is a real threat that this could come at the cost of massive unemployment and stagnant growth in Cambodia.

Source: World Bank

Role in economy, employment

Making up 39 percent of the country’s total exports, the garment and footwear sectors employ more than 700,000 Cambodians and are the country’s largest employers. Cambodia’s exports to the EU totalled US$5.47 billion last year – more than a third of its total exports – with textiles and footwear making up the majority of that sum.

After the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia warned of a halt in the country’s development in February due to the possible EBA suspension, the National Union Alliance Chamber of Cambodia (NUACC) last week said that the lifting of the tariff system will affect the livelihoods of about three million Cambodians.

On 2 May, a coalition of 20 international brands which source from Cambodia – including Nike, adidas and Levi Strauss – wrote a letter to Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen outlining their concerns that the labour and human rights situation in Cambodia is posing a risk to trade preferences for the country.

The EBA suspension would increase tariffs in the garment sector by 12 percent and the footwear sector by eight to 16 percent, costing US$676 million in additional taxes. The fear is that the rise in tariffs could lead to investors moving to other countries that enjoy EBA, thus affecting Cambodian jobs.

The NUACC estimated that some 43 percent of garment workers (nearly 225,000 people) and 20 percent of footwear workers (more than 20,000 people) would be left unemployed, stating that “research suggests and history demonstrates that economic sanctions lead to an increase in poverty – especially among women, minority communities and other marginalised groups.”

Why is the EBA being removed? 

The EBA has led to a 630 percent increase in Cambodia’s garment and footwear exports to the EU since 2008, helping the Cambodian economy to grow by 7.5 percent in 2018 according to the World Bank. The two sectors recorded a five-year high in 2018, rising by 17.6 percent – more than double the 8.3 percent increase in 2017.

Helping to lift one-third of the country’s population out of poverty between 2007 and 2014, the garment and footwear sectors are now at risk following the EU’s decision to start an 18-month review on whether to suspend duty-free preferences in February after the European Commission called Cambodia out for its “deterioration of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

The EU warned Cambodia that it could lose this special status after last July’s elections kept Hun Sen in power and saw his Cambodian People’s Party win all parliamentary seats.

His victory came after a political crackdown which saw the dissolution of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), the detention of its leader Kem Sokha, and the banning from political activity of 118 senior CNRP members.

Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia for more than 34 years, and the EU Foreign Affairs Council has deemed the recent 2018 elections as “not legitimate”.

Correct approach?

Is the EBA suspension – which, if confirmed, will only come into effect in August 2020 – really the best way to address Cambodia’s poor human rights record and democratic strength?

Continue reading “Hun Sen’s Cambodia could be in trouble”
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