Cambodia’s democracy ‘in retreat’?



The Cambodian government should ask the United Nations to help it carry out a full and independent investigation into the October 26, 2015 attack on two opposition members of the National Assembly, Human Rights Watch said today in a new report:

The 61-page report, “Dragged and Beaten: The Cambodian Government’s Role in the October 2015 Attack on Opposition Politicians,” shows that the three officials charged in the mob attack were not acting alone. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) transported protesters to the National Assembly in Phnom Penh a day after Hun Sen threatened to retaliate against the CNRP for demonstrating against him in Paris. Police stood by during the assault that inflicted serious injuries on assemblymen Kung Sophea and Nhay Chamraoen. After the attack, the mob went to the home of deputy CNRP leader Kem Sokha and threw stones and menaced those inside.

“The prosecution of the three bodyguard unit members for the brazen and brutal attack only scratches the surface in holding all those involved responsible,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Prosecuting only three people while blocking investigations into the attack’s other planners and participants shows a blatant cover-up by the government and courts.”

Political intimidation, the suppression of political expression, and restrictions on freedom of assembly have Cambodia‘s young democracy under threat, observers in the country say, Khamboly Dy writes for VOA:

Government officials say limitations on freedom are necessary to avoid a catastrophic “color revolution” of the sort that erupted in Syria five years ago. That uprising, which began amid hopes of a democratic spring across the Arab world, plunged the country into chaos.

Prime Minister Hun Sen argues that he is defending Cambodia’s “hard-earned peace and political stability,” said Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia. “There is a lack of fairness and social justice that is an important standard of rule of law,” said Kol, who compared recent developments for Cambodian democracy to the choreography of a traditional Khmer dance. “Dancers take three steps forward and three steps backward. It goes forward slowly. In some circumstances, it retreats back swiftly.”

Labor rights are also being systematically abused, according to the Solidarity Center, a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy.

The government’s recent actions have made the political situation “tense,” said Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. “It is a sign of threats to other NGOs that have been working on similar issues to foster respect for human rights in Cambodia.”

 The government and civil society groups seemed to be speaking different languages, interpreting the concepts of rule of law and freedom of expression entirely differently, she added.

“No one is opposing what the government says about peace and development,” she said. “In fact, civil society is joining with the government to improve democracy and rule of law.”


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