Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday reiterated that democracy and human rights in Cambodia are intact and serving well Cambodia’s 15 million citizens, though the country faces the possible loss this year of trade benefits to the world’s largest markets.
While presiding over an annual event in Phnom Penh to mark the 41st anniversary of the victory over the Khmer Rouge rule, Hun Sen hailed Cambodia’s sovereignty, democracy, and rule of law, noting Cambodia follows ‘’its own national law.”
Hun Sen disputed “western” justifications to restore what he claimed to be a functioning democracy.
“The reality clearly shows that democracy, the rights, and freedoms of the Cambodian people are being respected, preserved, and promoted steadily in the interests of the Cambodian nation and people,” he said to supporters of the Cambodian People’s Party.
The European Union has initiated an investigation into Cambodia’s human rights record that could lead to potential suspension of its “Everything But Arms” trade privileges. With the loss of EU assistance to reach European markets, some experts are concerned that key sectors in Cambodia such as garments and footwear could become smaller.
The preliminary findings of a recent EU assessment, obtained by VOA Khmer, shows that the EU Commission had seen little improvement in 2019 in the country’s human rights record while pointing to a further worsening since the announcement of the investigation. The EU is expected in February to update its probe.
The worse crackdown in Cambodia in more than 20 years against the political opposition, civil society and the independent news-media took place during the second half of 2017 and, basically, has been sustained into 2020.
Ruling party spokesperson Sok Eysan said Cambodia did not want the EBA to be withdrawn but that the country could not make some reforms and changes as underlined by the EU, such as dropping treason charges against opposition leader Kem Sokha.
Political analyst Meas Nee, who has taught at colleges in Cambodia, said he is not optimistic that Hun Sen will find a compromise with the EU, because any concessions would be a threat to his hold on power given the opposition’s continued popularity.
“It is very difficult for the ruling party to restore the situation since they are worried about [losing] power,” he said.