Cambodian officials on Tuesday criticized the U.S. House of Representatives for passing bi-partisan legislation that could impose sanctions on Cambodia, calling it “an act against peace."
The House unanimously voted on Monday to pass the ‘Cambodia Democracy Act,’ H.R.526, which proposes sanctions on Cambodian officials and is aimed at supporting democracy in Cambodia.
“It's an act against peace, stability and prosperity in the Kingdom,” wrote Phay Siphan, spokesperson for the Cambodian government, on his Facebook account on Tuesday.
“The Royal Government leadership and the Cambodian people cannot accept” the Cambodia Democracy Act, as it relies on baseless accusations and is “politically-motivated,” he wrote.
Phay Siphan called on the US legislature and government to reconsider their position on Cambodia for the sake of “good bilateral relations.”
Sok Eysan, spokesman for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party and a senator, told VOA Khmer that the US Congress might not clearly understand the situation in Cambodia.
"I think, first of all, they don’t fully grasp the real news about Cambodia,’’ Sok Eysan said. “Second, they are biased.’’ He asserted “sanctions would not cause any impact” to Cambodia.
The bill was introduced in January by a Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) following Cambodian government crackdowns on civil society groups, independent media, and opposition politicians.
The U.S. Senate must consider the draft legislation before potentially sending it to the president for consideration.
Within the draft act, the president would be required to submit a list of sanctioned individuals to Congress within 180 days of enactment. The proposed sanctions include asset blocking and visa restrictions on Cambodian government officials, and military and security forces who undermined democracy in Cambodia or committed serious human rights violations.
“This is a step showing that America believes that the people of Cambodia should have democracy,” Congressman Ted Yoho told VOA Khmer by phone. “It’s a step in the right direction to put pressure on the people that are denying them of that. From Hun Sen down to his army generals, the people that are blocking free speech in that country and fair and open elections.”
“This bill sends a clear message that the United States stands shoulder to shoulder with the people of Cambodia and that the Congress will hold Cambodia’s leaders accountable for their assault on democracy and violations of human rights,’’ Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) said on the floor of the House.
Engel in January became the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee after the Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in 2018 elections.
US lawmakers believe that the draft bill will pressure Prime Minister Hun Sen to reverse the backsliding on human rights and democracy in Cambodia.
“Passage of the Cambodia Democracy Act is an important step toward holding Prime Minister Hun Sen and his cronies accountable for continuing to trample on the rights of the Cambodian people,” Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) said in a statement.
“From shuttering or co-opting the free press, to banishing and even killing political opponents, to holding a sham election declaring himself the people’s choice, the regime of Prime Minister Hun Sen has done everything in its power to destroy any hope for democracy in Cambodia,” Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) said in a statement.
Emily Zeeberg, spokesperson of US Embassy to Cambodia, told VOA Khmer that the H.R.526 “expresses the very real concerns lawmakers in Washington have about eroding human rights and the weakening of democratic institutions in Cambodia.”
Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator for the rights group Licadho, said that the passing of the new US draft law would “help improve the situation of democracy and human rights in Cambodia.” He added that the government should consider all international recommendations that aim to strengthen democracy in order “to preserve the image and the benefits” of Cambodia.
(Additional reporting Kimseng Men, Washington DC)