PHNOM PENH - While Cambodia’s leaders have made arguments against the human rights concerns of the US, eventually they will have to face them if relations between the two countries are to move forward, analysts and advocates say.
In a brief meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen last week, US President Barack Obama focused on concerns over Cambodia’s sliding rights record and decreased freedoms.
Cambodia officails sought to downplay those remarks when they addressed the media, and Hun Sen refused to take questions from international reporters at the end of an Asean Summit this week.
However, Am Sam Ath, chief investigator for the rights group Licadho, told “Hello VOA” Thursday that Cambodia will ultimately have to face some US benchmarks on rights and democracy if it wants a partnership.
Other international donors, where Cambodian gets much of its annual budget, have asked for the same thing, he said.
Cambodia has come under increased scrutiny this year, following the killing of an environmental activist in April, the shooting of a 14-year-old girl in a government security crackdown in May, the arrest of Beehive Radio owner Mam Sonando in July and the continued exile of opposition leader Sam Rainsy for criminal charges he says are politically motivated.
“All these issues the international community has rasied, as well as Mr. Barack Obama, we think the government should reconsider them in order to change the country towards real democracy,” he said.
Cambodia needs independent courts, true freedom of assembly and rule of law in order to move in the right direction, he said.
For example, he said, when residents painted “SOS” on the roofs of their houses alongside photos of Obama, in protest of a local land conflict near the airport, they should not have been threatened with arrest and barred from doing so.
Obama particularly stressed the need for an independent election body ahead of general elections next year, White House officials said. He also said Cambodia should have no political prisoners and should allow the opposition to operate freely.
Cambodia’s rights and political situation continue to be a “significant restraint” on US partnership, a White House spokesman said after the meeting.
Chea Vannath, an independent analyst, said that the ideas of human rights, democracy and the rule of law are in the constitution, but that does not guarantee their improvement. “These can be achieved through struggles,” she said.
Koul Panha, head of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said the government should not allow human rights and democracy to worsen.
“It will cause some problems for Cambodia in finding support internationally, in strengthening the country’s development, and Cambodia will not have the full opportunity to engage in activities with the international community,” he said.