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Three Advocates To Address US Rights Commission

Three prominent Cambodians are scheduled as key participants in a US congressional hearing on human rights this month, as concerns persist over the government’s ongoing treatment of dissenters.

Mu Sochua, a Kampot National Assembly representative for the Sam Rainsy Party who recently lost a defamation suit to Prime Minister Hun Sen, is set to join Kek Galabru, founder of the rights group Licadho, and Moeun Tola, head of the Community Legal Education Center’s labor program, in Washington Sept. 10.

“It’s high time that we all talk about the reality there, and we have enough evidence,” said Mu Sochua, who last month was ordered to pay more than $4,000 in fines and compensation after she brought a suit against Hun Sen for allegedly degrading remarks in a speech in April.

The three are scheduled to give testimony to the House of Representative’s Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, co-chaired by Frank Wolf, a Republican from Virginia, and James McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, examining “a concerning trend in the Cambodian government’s overall human rights record,” according to the commission.

The commission cited as one reason for the hearing a July 29 Washington Post report of “a heightened crackdown on journalists and opposition activists” that “has provoked new concern that the government [of Cambodia] is engaging in widespread abuse of the nation’s legal system to muzzle its detractors.”

It also referred to Mu Sochua’s defamation case, diminished rights for workers and labor, and the eviction of people from their land without compensation.

Mu Sochua said in an interview in Washington Tuesday she would discuss these issues and the suspension of her own parliamentary immunity, along with another SRP colleague, which paved the way for two lawsuits.

“I would like to make it clear that the Sam Rainsy Party will not make an appeal to cut aid to Cambodia, so the Cambodian people should not worry about this,” Mu Sochua said. “We are here at the US Congress to provide truth about a grave situation that might affect democracy and human rights in Cambodia.”

Kek Galabru said she will ask the US to assist Cambodia in ensuring its courts are made independent and in finding ways to tackle land issues.

“The land issue is very important because it is the life and bread of some 80 percent of Cambodians living in rural areas,” she said by phone Wednesday.

“The US should help find a way to distribute land in a fair manner to ensure good, successful and positive developments where the majority of people benefit, not just a small group, leaving the majority in tears,” she said.

Meanwhile, shorter work contracts for workers after a US quota program ended and suits filed against labor leaders are a concern, said Moeun Tola, adding “past killings of [union leaders] have never been solved…which is a threat to the freedom of unions.”

The rights commission hearing was announced Aug. 25, and its examination of the situation in Cambodia is a rare instance. Along with the Cambodians invited are representatives from the US State Department.

“I am sorry that the commission only invited an opposition team, without inviting another side…to give a balanced report and find out the truth for a solution,” said Koy Kuong, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

That the administration was not invited was “not fair, not neutral, and biased,” he said. “It won’t help promote human rights.”

Cambodia’s own human rights committee, headed by senior Hun Sen adviser Om Yienteng, was not aware of the hearing.

Om Yentieng, contacted Monday, said the government had not broken any laws in pursuing lawsuits against Mu Sochua and others.

“When they sue us, they push us to the court, but once we countersue, they tell us not to and ask us to leave them to exercise their freedom of expression,” he said. “I think that we should have a clear grammar for democracy. We should not use democracy wrongly and out of grammar, causing people to copy a bad example.”