Cambodia has sought to dismiss international criticism over its poor human rights record and democratic standards by highlighting its role in UN peacekeeping missions and other international contributions.
In a speech in New York late last month, Cambodia’s defense minister, Tea Banh, said Cambodia was committed to internationalism, peace, and development.
“Despite our resources, capacity, and budget for the national defense being still limited and insufficient, Cambodia can still respond to the [UN] requests,” he said. “This shows our strong determination and commitment to fully contributing to peace, stability, and humanitarian work at the international level. For this reason, Cambodia should receive justice and more encouragement without hindrance to development”.
He added that Cambodia had a history of promoting human rights and democracy by holding regular elections, saying these commitments were a “testament to Cambodia’s rights policy.”
“Any excuse used to hinder this effort in the form of sanctions or criticism will surely hurt the growth and hard work,” he said.
Cambodia has contributed troops to UN peacekeeping missions since 2006, sending more than 5,000 officers with expertise in mine clearing and engineering to postings in Sudan, South Sudan, Lebanon, and Mali.
But Eng Chhai Eang, vice president of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party, said the issues of the country’s domestic human rights and democratic records and Cambodia’s international commitments should not be conflated.
He said the Hun Sen government was “killing democracy” and that the international community should “take measures to bring Cambodia back to democracy.”
Cambodia held elections in July 2018 after the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP following two successful elections for the opposition. The CNRP has labeled the moves by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party illegitimate and have called for the military to intervene.
The European Union and the United States are examining the possibility of placing economic sanctions on Cambodia if the government does not meet its rights and democratic commitments, including the release of the CNRP president Kem Sokha, who was jailed before the party was dissolved.
The EU is considering removing Cambodia from the Everything But Arms preferential trade scheme, while the US may also revoke Cambodia’s tariff-free access to US markets.
But despite the criticism, Banh remains defiant.
“For the armed forces, if they [opposition officials] want to call for a toppling of the legitimate government, I consider that as a big mistake,” he told VOA Khmer. “We can’t accept that. They are liable for punishment as well for attempting to topple the legitimate government. We can’t allow that.”