Former Opposition Party Leader Calls for Election Boycotts in Cambodia

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – In November of 2017, the Supreme Court of Cambodia dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the main opposition party to Prime Minister’s Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).  Now, the former leader of the CNRP is asking people to boycott the upcoming elections in protest of the party’s ban.  The current leader of the CNRP, Kem Sokha, was arrested in late 2017 on charges of treason.

Former CNRP leader, Sam Rainsy (front left) with Kem Sokha, the current leader who is in jail facing charges of treason. Photo courtesy of Tang Chhin Sothy.

Following the ban on the CNRP several countries have cut aid, imposed travel bans, and condemn the actions.  Many nations like Japan are demanding free and fair elections in Cambodia.  The CPP is predicted to win the next election almost completely unopposed.

Sam Rainsy, the former CNRP leader, recently tweeted, “I call on all my Cambodian fellow compatriots who believe in democracy to boycott the  July 29, 2018 elections if the CNRP is not allowed to participate.”  Rainsy has been extremely critical of the current Prime Minister, Hun Sen, for several years now; it is not clear whether his tweet reflects his personal beliefs or those of CNRP.

A spokesperson of the CPP said of Rainsy’s tweet, “The CNRP is already dead by the Supreme Court’s decision.  Even if Sam Rainsy appeals until he dies, people no longer believe him.”

Many of the former members of the CNRP and its factions have found exile in the United States.  It is here that they continue to mobilize and speak on Cambodian politics.  One professor of diplomacy says, “Is the spirit of the CNRP still alive? Of course it’s still alive.”  It is just continuing its work elsewhere until its reconstituted.

For more information please visit:

Reuters – Cambodia’s former opposition leader calls for election boycott – 8 April 2018

South China Morning Post – Cambodia’s former opposition leader Sam Rainsy calls for election boycott if his dissolved party remains excluded – 8 April 2018

Voice of America – Cambodia’s Former Opposition Leader Calls for Election Boycott – 8 April 2018

Asia Times – Can Cambodia’s fractured opposition survive? – 5 April 2018 

Cambodia to Shut Down Cambodian Center for Human Rights

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

Phnom Penh – The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) is a leading human rights organization in Cambodia. It was created in 2002 by Kem Sokha to promote International Human Rights Law and to provide free legal aid to victims. Kem Sokha is also the leader of the opposition party and was recently jailed by the Prime Minister.

On 26 November 2017, Prime Minister Hun Sen called for the Center for Human Rights to be closed down. He accused foreigners of creating the center to push their agendas. He went further to accuse the CCHR of taking orders from foreigners. Sen said that if the CCHR had been created by a person of the Khmer nationality there would be no issue with the organization.

Prime Minister Hun Sen. Photo Courtesy of Samrang Pring. 

The Center for Human Rights believes that this is just a stunt pulled by Prime Minister Hun Sen to hold onto power; however, acts like this just draw criticism from the Cambodian people. The director also feels that citizens do not believe the accusations as many people are in favor of the Western political alignment.

The Director put out an official statement that read: “CCHR calls upon the Royal Government of Cambodia to enter into a meaningful dialogue with CCHR representatives in relation to these allegations, in the firm belief that any misperceptions about the nature of CCHR’s work and neutrality could be clarified, and the matter resolved.”

The CCHR indicated that any neutral and impartial investigation would find no evidence of wrong actions.

For more information, please see:

 Human Rights Watch – Cambodia: Hun Sen Seeks to Shut Major Rights Group – 27 November 2017

Voice of America – Cambodian Rights Group Next in Long Line – 27 November 2017

Reuters – Cambodia’s Hun Sen calls for closure of rights group founded by rival – 26 November 2017

U.S. Stops Funding for Demining in Cambodia

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Years after the Vietnam War, Cambodia remains littered with mines. Cambodia is ranked as one of the highest countries with unexploded ordnances. Approximately 2 Cambodians die or are injured every week from encountering hidden mines.  A large portion is of U.S. origin.

Sight of a mine in Cambodia. Photo Courtesy of Tang Chhin Sothy/ AFP.

However, on 7 November 2017 the United States announced that it will be cutting $2 million in grant money to Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC). This will go into affect next year.  For the moment this years efforts will not be affected.  No reason was given for why the funding was recalled.

The Director General of CMAC was not aware of any dispute between them or the U.S. Government in how matters were being handled.   Even during meetings held in July and early fall with the State Department over the 2018 budget, there were no mentions of cuts. The Director general finds this decision rather disappointing as the U.S. has “a moral obligation and goodwill obligation because they dropped a lot of bombs on the Cambodian people.”

Finding new donors in time to fund next year’s work shall be tricky as this was a last minute decision. The Cambodian Government does not appear to be concerned about the cut in funding for de-mining processes. Hun Sen, the current Prime Minister pledges to support CMAC’s efforts.

This lack of funding will have a huge impact on the work that CMAC does. Up to 300 mine clearing employees could have their jobs impacted. Additionally, this will affect the number of mines that CMAC can reach next year. Which means that less people can be taken out of the way of danger in their day-to-day life. A second issue is that farmland will continue to be rendered useless because of the presence of mines. This means that farmers are limited in the crop size they produce for market. More than 80% of Cambodians rely in this land for their survival.

For more information, please see:

Voice of America – US Demining Cut Provokes Cambodia – 7 November 2017

Reuters – U.S. cuts $2-mln funding to Cambodia’s mine removal effort amid crackdown – 7 November 2017

The Phnom Penh Post – US cuts funding to CMAC amid government’s war of words with superpower – 7 November 2017

Cambodian Government Files Case to Dissolve Opposition Party

By: Katherine Hewitt
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Next year, Cambodia is set for a presidential election. For the most part the country has a two party system- the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).  There are a handful of other smaller political parties, but they do not hold any seats in Parliament nor do they have popular backings.

The current political party in control is the CPP under the direction of Prime Minister Hun Sen. He is a former member of the Khmer Rouge, the violent Communist group that was in power from the late 1960s to 1979. Hun Sen has served as Prime Minister since 1989.

Prime Minister Hun Sen. Photo Courtesy of Samrang Pring.

In 2013, the CPP only narrowly won the election over the CNRP. During the local elections this past June the CPP lost ground. Polls suggest that the CNRP is gaining more support and will likely win the Presidential elections next July.

As a response, Prime Minister Hun Sen is cracking down on the opposition party in Cambodia. A new law was passed that allows the government to abolish any political parties while leaders face criminal charges. This poses a threat to the CNRP as the current government accuses the leaders of plotting a coup. Accordingly, on October 6, 2017 the current government filed a case to dissolve the CNRP.

In September the leader of the CNRP, Ken Sokha, was arrested on the charge of treason. In early October Sen threatened further arrests on the same charge. A government official leaked to the deputy President of the CNRP that she was also targeted for arrest. She has since fled the country. Many other CNRP parliament members have done so as well.

Prime Minister Hun Sen states that he is trying to protect Cambodia from outside influences and preserve peace and stability in the country.   In particular he believes that the U.S. is interfering in the internal affairs of Cambodia via backing the CNRP coup.

The group denied the allegations calling them politically motivated and an attempt to end democracy in Cambodia.  Deputy President of the CNRP, Mu Sochua, is calling for international sanctions on Sen and his ‘cronies.’  She believes that other nations should take a stand on democracy and human rights to demonstrate to Sen that his behavior is not acceptable and must change.

She says, “The time for statements has passed. It’s time for sanctions, targeted sanctions. Also suspension of technical aid to the government of Cambodia.  Time is up for democracy.”

There are 8 months until the elections in Cambodia.  Socha hopes the sanctions will push Sen to ensure free and fair elections or risk not being a recognized government.

For more information, please see:

AlJazeera – Cambodia moves to dissolve opposition party CNRP – 6 October 2017

BBC – Cambodia opposition politician Mu Sochua ‘feared arrest’ – 6 October 2017

Reuters – Exclusive: Cambodian opposition leader calls for sanctions on leadership – 4 October 2017

Cambodia’s Main Opposition Leader Arrested for Treason

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – On Sunday, September 3rd, Cambodia’s main opposition leader, Kem Sokha, was arrested for treason. He is accused of violating Article 443 which prevents officials from “colluding with foreigners.” If convicted, Mr. Sokha could face a 30 year jail term.

Kem Sokha was arrested outside his house in Phnom Penh. Photo courtesy of New York Times.

The opposition leader was arrested during a heavy crackdown on critics of Prime Minister Sen’s government. The government officals accused Mr. Sokha of discussing plots with the United States government to undermine Cambodia.

The government, as evidence, disclosed a four-year-old video of Mr. Sokha giving a speech and stating that he has received advice from the United States government on establishing an opposition group in Cambodia.

According to Mr. Sokha’s daughter, Ken Monovithya, more than 100 police officers surrounded their home and arrest her father without a warrant. She stated that Mr. Sokha was handcuffed and escorted to an unmarked vehicle by numerous officers. It is reported that he is currently being held at a remote prison near the Vietnamese boarder. He has not been given an opportunity to speak to an attorney.

Upon Mr. Sokha’s arrest, the United States Embassy in Phnom Penh commented that the charges “appear to be politically motivated.”

The Cambodia’s Prime Minister, Hun Sen, and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party will face a tough election next year. After ruling the country for more than three decades, Mr. Sen’s critics have accused him of trying to eliminate his oppositions prior to the upcoming election.

The New York based Human Rights Watch group has recently stated that “the government and the ruling CPP have manufactured these treason charges against Kem Sokha for political purposes, aiming to try and knock the political opposition out of the ring before the 2018 electoral contest ever begins.”

NYT – Cambodia Arrests Opposition Leader, Accusing Him of Treason – 2 September, 2017

Reuters – Cambodia charges opposition leader with treason – 5 September, 2017

Aljazeera – Cambodia politician Kem Sokha charged with treason – 6 September, 2017

UN Calls on Cambodian Government to Release Detainees

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

Phnom Penh, CAMBODIA — In May 2016, the government of Cambodia detained five human rights defenders. The government alleges that these individuals criminally assisted a woman in making false claims while under investigation by the Cambodian Anti-Corruption Unit. On January 25, 2017, two human rights experts called on the Cambodian government to release the detainees, as the charges against them were ruled “arbitrary” by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Photo Courtesy of: UN Photo
The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Photo Courtesy of: UN Photo

Cambodia is a signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which explicitly prohibits the “use of criminal provisions as a pretext to suppress and prevent the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression and to silence human rights defenders.” In May 2016, UN human rights experts sent a joint urgent appeal to the Cambodian government on the status of the five detainees. The request has yet to be addressed.

Experts are concerned about a lack of transparency in the Cambodian legislature as well as conflicts between Cambodia’s political parties. In September 2016, a spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern on this topic, noting that there is a high degree of intimidation and opposition between the country’s political groups.

Despite an international call for action, the Cambodian government has yet to respond and continues to detain the five human rights activists.

For more information, please see:

UN News Centre – Cambodia: UN experts call for immediate release of five human rights defenders – 25 January, 2017

JURIST – UN rights experts call for immediate release of 5 human rights defenders in Cambodia – 25 January, 2017

Human Rights Watch – Cambodia: Drop Farcical Investigation of Human Rights Defenders – 7 February, 2017

UN – International Convention on Civil and Political Rights – 19 December, 1966