Two separate groups of international parliamentarians this week raised concerns over the state of democracy in Cambodia, seeing threats to pluralism and human rights in harassment of opposition politicians, trade unions and civil society activists.
Members of the European Parliament and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) condemned what they see as a crackdown on the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party ahead of commune and national elections.
In Bangladesh on Wednesday, an IPU assembly, which represents 171 countries, adopted a resolution calling attention to the arrest, persecution and suspension from the National Assembly of members of the opposition.
“The IPU is alarmed at the escalating harassment of members of the opposition in Cambodia,” the IPU’s statement reads. “The Organization is also concerned at the prospect that one opposition party, the Cambodian National Rescue Party, may be dissolved and not allowed to take part in the upcoming election.”
The newly adopted Law on Political Parties gave authorities the power to dissolve any political party that violates a law or threatens national unity or security. The law is widely viewed as having granted the CPP the legal tools to dissolve arbitrarily any serious political threat.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, former opposition leader Sam Rainsy said the IPU’s statement demonstrates that union members believe there is a lack of political will on the part of Cambodian authorities to resolve human rights violations.
“[IPU] considers it crucial for the CNRP to be able to stand in the upcoming elections,” Rainsy wrote.
Days earlier, members of the European Parliament formed a new group called the Group in Support of Democracy in Cambodia. It aims to pressure the EU to use its economic leverage as a major trade partner with Cambodia to improve the human rights situation in the Kingdom.
“I think that trade and commercial considerations are taking much too much importance, and we are forgetting democracy, rule of law, and human rights,” said Umberto Gambini, a staff member for European Parliamentarian Ramon Tremosa, a member of the group. “The EU has the tools to act and suspend its association agreement with Cambodia.”
European Parliamentarian Neena Gill, also a group member, said attacks on the opposition, as well as on human rights, labour and land activists, were of considerable concern.
“For democracy to gain a foothold in Cambodia, it is key that local elections this year and national elections in 2018 are conducted in a free and fair manner,” Gill said via email. “This first and foremost requires allowing meaningful political opposition.”
The group’s next meeting will be held April 26, and includes a list of lobbying tools such as issuing priority questions, issues that must be reviewed and responded to by European commissioners, and writing letters.
The group has one priority question still awaiting response, and is considering issuing a parliamentary resolution on Cambodia this year. “We are going to use all the tools at our disposal,” Gambini said.
The group will also invite the EU ambassador to Cambodia to join its discussions. EU Ambassador George Edgar confirmed he had plans to speak with the group.
But ruling party spokesman Sok Eysan said the concerns were overblown.
“Has the CNRP been dissolved?” he asked. “The CNRP has commune chief candidates in all 1,646 communes . . . They should pay attention to the terror [attacks] in Paris and London. They should not be giving a headache to Phnom Penh.”