Congressman Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Congressman Steve Chabot (OH-01), and Congressman Ed Royce (CA-39)—co-chairs of the Congressional Cambodia Caucus and Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee—called on the State Department and United States Embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia to publically express support for the rule of law in Cambodia and call on the government to respect the right of every Cambodian citizen to vote in advance of the upcoming national election in 2018.
In a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Congressmen wrote that such statements from the United States Government would send an important and necessary signal to the Cambodian government that it must respect the rights of the Cambodian people, especially in light of the upcoming national elections.
These will be the first national elections held in the Asian nation since the disputed 2013 national election that resulted in the ruling party of Prime Minister Hun Sen narrowly maintaining its hold on power in the face of widespread reports of irregularities. Following the 2013 elections, the leaders of the main opposition party, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, have faced politically-motivated criminal investigations and charges brought by the Hun Sen government. Sam Rainsy, head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was forced to leave Cambodia and is forbidden from returning, while CNRP deputy leader Kem Sokha was kept under virtual house arrest for months within the party’s headquarters. The recent passage by the Hun Sen government of a new law affecting political parties resulted in the ouster of Sam Rainsy as leader of the CNRP. This law and other legal actions taken by the ruling party also threatens the very existence of Kem Sokha's leadership of the CNRP and places the future of the party at the whims of the Hun Sen government.
“We are deeply disturbed by reports of Prime Minister Hun Sen inciting violence and using scare tactics to intimidate voters-including making threats of civil war should his party lose elections,” the Congressmen wrote in the letter.
The Congressmen also highlighted the passage by the House last year of their resolution, H.Res.728, which established the House’s official support for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in Cambodia. The resolution reiterated many of the same instances of Cambodian government harassment against the CNRP, as well as detailing the irregularities in the 2013 national elections.
“In order for a political environment to exist where free and fair election can be recognized by the international community, the Cambodian government must immediately drop all politically-motivated charges against opposition leaders, cease harassment of the CNRP, and allow independent election observers at all polling places,” Congressman Lowenthal said.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen must cease the harassment of political opposition leaders immediately,” Congressman Chabot said. “Free and fair elections are vital to the democratic system and it is crucial that the Cambodian government recognize this. The systematic sidelining of the CNRP has given the international community real reason for concern. Without question, Prime Minister Hun Sen must also refrain from further delegitimizing the Cambodian government by inciting violence and threatening civil war.”
“The Hun Sen regime’s attacks on political opposition and other peaceful activists have nearly destroyed Cambodia’s democratic institutions,” Congressman Royce said. “Every Cambodian deserves to be able to participate in free and fair elections without persecution or intimidation.”