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US Delegation Told of Need for ‘Return’ To Democratic Norms

U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks to reporters, file photo.
U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi speaks to reporters, file photo.

Members of civil society groups who met with a US congressional delegation this week say they pushed for more democratic space and improvement of human rights practices.

The rights and development workers met with a delegation led by House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, which is on a tour of Asia.

Thun Saray, head of the rights group Adhoc, who met with the group, said he described to the US lawmakers a need for Cambodia to return to democratic reforms—including an improved judiciary, free and fair elections, Internet freedoms, and rights for workers.

“We want to advocate to open the democratic space for Cambodian people, with cooperation and support from the international community and the US, as well,” he said.

Pelosi was seeking more information on these subjects, he said. “And we told her about our concerns regarding to the freedom of expression in public places, which seems to have declined compared to last year, and the detention of land activists and political activists, which seems to be tense,” he said.

Thida Khus, executive director of the development organization Silaka, said Pelosi and others in the delegation seemed concerned with these issues. The hope is that they will take these concerns back to Washington to incorporate them in US policy toward Cambodia, she said.

“We know that the freedom of association and the freedom of demonstration in public places have been more restricted in Cambodia since the 2013 elections,” she said. “More restrictions cause difficulties for us. Civil society needs gatherings, needs to collect opinions, to debate and make a common opinion.”

Ros Sopheap, executive director of Gender and Development for Cambodia, said the visit was also a reminder that women in politics should be as strong as men.

“If the women’s representatives are less than [men], the women do not have enough voices to bring in the needs of women to put in policy, at all,” she said.