U.S. lawmakers were due to hold a hearing on Thursday to discuss proposed sanctions on Cambodia for allegedly undermining the democratic process.
The lawmakers were set to discuss the Cambodia Democracy Act and an amendment that could see Phnom Penh handed further sanctions over its crackdown on the opposition, civil society, and independent media.
Cambodia this week closed party registration for the July 29 election, without allowing the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party to register as demanded by the U.S., E.U. and U.N.
The CNRP’s former leader, Kem Sokha, remains in prison awaiting trial on treason charges widely seen as unfounded and politically motivated.
Further sanctions being considered against Cambodia target senior military officials, members of the security forces and government officials involved in human rights abuses. The sanctions would include asset freezes and visa rerstrictions.
The bill was drafted by Ted Yoho, a Republican from Florida who chairs the Asia Pacific subcommittee on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“The Cambodian people are starving for democracy,'' Yoho wrote in a recent statement. ''Cambodia’s strongman Prime Minister, Hun Sen, has clung to power for decades and has no intentions of loosening his iron grip on that country. As support for the opposition has strengthened in the last few years, Hun Sen has decided that if he can no longer dominate the polls even in a rigged election system, he will retain power through force.”
“The Cambodia Democracy Act of 2018 will push back against the Hun Sen regime’s undermining of democracy and related human rights abuses by applying financial sanctions to the figures who carry out this despicable agenda and codifying the Administration’s existing visa restrictions for these individuals,” Yoho's statement continued.
Alan Lowenthal, a Democrat based in California, established in 2016 a congressional group to monitor the situation in Cambodia: the Congressional Cambodia Caucus.
“My colleagues and I have warned the Hun Sen government over and over that it must abide by the agreements it signed to hold democratic elections,” he said. “Yet the 30-year regime of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has done away with any and all pretense that it will conduct free and fair elections this year. This regime has threatened, attacked, jailed, and then outright banned the nation’s major opposition political party.
“This regime has destroyed the free and independent press in the country, banished NGO’s and international organizations, and subverted the national judicial system to do its dirty work. It is time that Hun Sen pays a price for his efforts to destroy the burgeoning democracy that was beginning to flower in Cambodia.”
Cambodia's government says its' actions during the past eight months are aimed at stabilizing the country and protecting it against alleged plotters.