WASHINGTON DC, PHNOM PENH —
Three U.S. lawmakers this week joined calls for stepped-up international pressure on Cambodia following the government’s recent crackdown on the opposition and civil society.
Speaking to VOA Khmer on Tuesday at the Capitol building, the three House of Representatives lawmakers -- Ed Royce (R-CA), Lou Correa (D-CA), and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) -- urged the international community to act against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.
“I think the entire international community has to speak out right now because he [Hun Sen] is just destroying the rule of law and his country,” said Royce, who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. ‘’At the same time it’s not just democracy at stake, it’s also the rights of the people of Cambodia and we have seen so many egregious actions in terms of land grabbing, in terms of well-connected people close to the government taking away the lands of the people.”
“It’s going away from any human rights. So that’s why this has become a crisis...you can’t have a situation where you eliminate the political opposition,” Royce said.
He called for Hun Sen to “take a step back” from “draconian methods.”
Over the past several months Cambodia has jailed the leader of the opposition, Kem Sokha, on treason charges widely seen as politically motivated; moved to dissolve his party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party; and forced the closure of several independent media outlets and civil society groups.
Correa, a ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said: “We need to bring attention to the Cambodian government, to what’s going on. We need to investigate what’s going on as well.”
Lofgren, who represents the San Jose area of California, said the United States should take “strong action” that included economic sanctions as well as condemnation and diplomatic pressure.
The lawmakers’ comments came a day after prominent U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) warned, in a letter to the Cambodian Ambassador in Washington, that Cambodian officials could face further visa bans if it does not drop the charges against Sokha.
‘’My colleagues and I are fully aware that any individual with a criminal record in Cambodia is barred from serving in elected office,’’ Cruz wrote. ‘’Many of us also see the Prime Minister’s coordinated actions to reallocate the Cambodian National Rescue Party’s seats in Parliament – effectively dissolving the opposition party – as further evidence of his effort to disable the institutions of democratic governance,’’
Cruz said the Hun Sen government should release the CNRP president by Nov. 9.
‘’This attempt to undermine the Cambodian people’s faith in their democratic process must cease immediately,’’ the Cruz letter stated.
Phay Siphan, a Cambodian government spokesman, said Tuesday that Cruz’s comments would have little impact on Cambodia as they did not reflect Trump administration policy.
“The United States is not a paradise and is not a policy priority,” he said. “Cambodia’s political principle is to keep the peace, protect national security and protect our people’s prosperity. And Ted [Cruz]’s remarks collude with Kem Sokha.”
In September, U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said the government crackdown was unacceptable and that democratic countries should apply pressure to Phnom Penh.
Hun Sen has repeatedly said that the case against Sokha would proceed regardless of any outside criticism.
Em Sovannara, a Cambodian political analyst, said it would take the intervention of President Donald Trump before the Cambodian government took warnings from the U.S. seriously.
“When the executive takes action by appealing to or preparing measures against Cambodia ... this will work, but just threatening visa restrictions, I don’t think this will make a strong impact,” he said.