An E.U. Parliament official has called for the release of Kem Sokha, the jailed president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, as a fundamental requirement of Cambodia remaining in a lucrative preferential trade scheme with Europe.
E.U. officials visited Cambodia ahead of Sunday’s general election, which saw Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party win a landslide victory, to assess its membership of the scheme. The CPP jailed Sokha in September on treason charges and banned the CNRP over allegations of a conspiracy to overthrow Hun Sen by force.
Pier Antonio Panzeri, chair of the E.U. Parliament’s human rights subcommittee, said in a statement on Monday that “recent developments in Cambodia, including the use of violence and imprisonment of opposition main party Kem Sokha, testify to a severe trend towards the weakening of democracy and political rights, and the silencing of dissenting voices in the country. I call on the Cambodian government to reverse this trend by undertaking to respect democratic principles and by releasing Kem Sokha immediately.”
Panzeri added that he hoped the European Commission would promptly report the findings of its mission to Cambodia and “propose an appropriate response to the worrisome deterioration of the human rights situation in the country.”
Sok Eysan, ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman, said the statement was an “insult” to the independence and sovereignty of Cambodia
“It is merely an attempt to suppress Cambodia, to dominate the independence and integrity of Cambodia. There are no human rights violations in Cambodia,” he said.
“It’s up to the western countries whether or not to cut trade ties or impose economic sanctions on Cambodia, but it will not ... provide justice to Cambodians who are the owners of Cambodia’s democracy,” he said.
Along with the United States, Europe is Cambodia’s largest export market for garments, an industry supporting some 700,000 workers in the country.
Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, said unionists were concerned at the possible exclusion of Cambodia from the trading scheme but said that labor rights in Cambodia remained poor.