KATHERINE DOUGLAS WRITES — Earlier this month, following a report on an investigation, the EU threatened to pull trade preferences for Cambodia because it was “concerned about the human rights situation there [Cambodia]”. The government has yet to officially respond, despite the one-month time limit imposed in the report. Of note, the EU receives a third of Cambodia’s exports.
This past week, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen approved the release of 70 leaders of the opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, and relaxed conditions of house arrest for past party leaders. Why? Because members of the party did not return to the country to stage protests, as had been expected. Given the history of the party, though, this policy shift must not be taken lightly. The Cambodia National Rescue Party party was founded in 2012 when the Sam Rainsy party and Human Rights Party merged. The election was extremely close, but the victory went to Hun Sen.
In 2017, the Supreme Court of Cambodia ruled that the party had plotted to overthrow the Hun Sen regime before the next election could take place. Many party leaders were detained, while hundreds of members and supporters were called in for questioning. Human Rights groups then grew concerned that the government continued to investigate a political party that had actually been dissolved.
Hun Sen rose to power during the 1970’s, while the Khmer Rouge terrorized the country. He claimed to have cut ties to the Khmer Rouge the year it captured Phnom Penh, but still fled to Vietnam in 1976, then returned to Cambodian politics two years later. He has been prime minister of Cambodia since 1985, and so, it seems, refuses to give up his seat at the table.
Cambodia is far from recovering from the trauma that the Khmer Rouge inflicted upon the country, and this heavy-handedness is no step in the right direction. Human Rights Watch believes that the current political climate is “fundamentally flawed.” If history continues to repeat itself in Cambodia, is this because no challengers have been given a chance?