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Cambodian-Americans Plan Lobbying Campaign to Support Sanctions

FILE PHOTO - Cambodian-Americans held a protest against the Hun Sen government outside of Capitol Hill, Washington DC. (Chetra Chap/VOA Khmer)

The EU has given Cambodia 12 months to implement reforms or face losing its access to a preferential trade scheme thought to be vital to the economy.

US-based supporters of Cambodia’s former opposition party have launched a campaign to lobby US lawmakers to support legislation aimed at placing sanctions on the Cambodian government.

The activists are planning to call and petition lawmakers to urge them to support the Cambodia Trade Act and Cambodia Democracy Act, these are bipartisan bills that were introduced in early January following a decline in rights and democracy in that country.

Rithy Ung, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party America, said the activists were working with the Senate.

“This bill is similar to the trade sanctions initiated by the European Union. Our activists are working on petitions, collecting signatures, and meeting representatives in their states to lobby for the passing of the two bills,” he said.

The EU has given Cambodia 12 months to implement reforms or face losing its access to a preferential trade scheme thought to be vital to the economy.

Senators Ted Cruz and Chris Coons introduced the Cambodia Trade Act to review Cambodia’s access to preferential treatment under the Generalized System of Preferences, under which Cambodia exports some $400 million worth of goods annually at zero tariffs.

The Cambodia Democracy Act was introduced by Congressman Ted Yoho and received widespread bipartisan support.

“I’m satisfied, but want more than this,” said Sarath Say of Rhode Island. “We want the bills out as soon as possible. This is the success of our protests.”

The bills have been referred to Senate’s Finance Committee and House’s Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees, respectively.

Chea Meas, a spokesman for the CNRP-USA, said: “In short, these bills are to ensure Cambodia’s accountability in its trade with the US… the bills won’t sanction the Cambodian military, but their leaders and those who have done evil actions and have them blacklisted.”

The Cambodian authorities oversaw a far-reaching crackdown on the opposition, civil society and the media in the lead up to general elections in July 2018, which saw the ruling Cambodian People’s Party win an overwhelming victory after the Supreme Court dissolved the opposition.

The CNRP’s president, Kem Sokha, was jailed in September 2017, two months before the party’s dissolution, and is being held on treason charges.

“With or without any push from the Cambodian community here, they [US lawmakers] will have to do it because the EU has moved one step ahead of the US,” said Kuch Schanley of Maryland. “But if our community pushes further, the lawmakers would want to hear more because it’s part of a democratic process where power rests with the people.”