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Open letter to parliaments on the need to denounce the sham elections in Cambodia

20/07/2023

Open letter to parliaments on the need to denounce the sham elections in Cambodia

To:

The European Union Parliament

The United States Congress

The Parliament of Canada

The Parliament of Australia

The Parliament of United Kingdom

The Parliament of New Zealand

Your Honors,

We, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, are writing to express our grave concerns about the state of human rights and democracy in Cambodia. Despite hollow attempts to prove the contrary, Cambodia is continuing on its descent into authoritarianism, which is of great concern not only to the people of Cambodia and the region, but also to the international community.

The situation related to human rights and democracy has drastically deteriorated in Cambodia in recent years, notably since Prime Minister Hun Sen used the country’s courts to dissolve the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in 2017. This occurred shortly after the CNRP demonstrated itself to be a real threat for Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party in successive nationwide elections.

This year alone, Hun Sen has openly threatened opposition supporters with legal and physical violence, while his regime has shut down one of the country’s last remaining independent media outlets Voice of Democracy (VOD), threatened to shoot a former opposition leader with a rocket launcher for any attempt to step on Cambodian soil, and sentenced former CNRP leader Kem Sokha to 27 years of house arrest on trumped-up treason charges. This is on top of the forced defection of political prisoners, through means such as depriving those them of desperately needed medical care as well as the prior years of mass trials for both opposition party members and activists, invoking actions taken by the Khmer Rouge to silence, shut down, and even kill anyone acting as a dissident. 

Earlier this month, the Cambodian National Election Commission (NEC) rejected the registration of the main opposition Candlelight Party for the upcoming July elections on administrative grounds, stating that not having their initial notarized registration document from 1998 prohibited them from running. In addition to this not being a requirement in last years’ commune elections, the document in question disappeared in 2017 when authorities raided CNRP headquarters, thus preventing it from being provided. This manufactured bureaucratic obstacle, designed to block the Candlelight Party from competing in the elections by any means possible, was then affirmed on May 25th by Cambodia’s Constitutional Council, essentially making this an unopposed election for the CPP. The amendment to the Election Law has further clamped down the freeness and fairness of the upcoming elections by prohibiting those who will abstain from voting in next month’s general elections from running as candidates in future polls. Furthermore, the new election amendment will impose criminal liability on citizens who disrupt and boycott the election. 

The government of Hun Sen appears determined to drive the final nail into the coffin of Cambodia’s democracy, which is guaranteed by the Paris Peace Agreements of 1991. Any elections held under the present circumstances cannot possibly be free and fair, nor should any government created from such elections be recognized as legitimate by the international community. 

While we appreciate the attention to the anti-democratic actions of the Cambodian government and the decision to not send official observers, the authoritarian nature of  Hun Sen is not impacted by words or morality, only action. 

We therefore urge you to take stronger actions to deny legitimacy to the July elections as it is becoming increasingly clear that Hun Sen is intent on using the elections as just another tool to consolidate his power. We implore you to take action as parliamentarians to use your legislative mandate in parliament to  unequivocally denounce the 2023 electoral exercise in Cambodia as undemocratic. Through legislative action, we implore you to  strongly call out the Cambodian government to end all forms political persecution and immediately and unconditionally release of political prisoners, advocate for the reinstatement of a politically diverse and inclusive environment, and call on an independent investigation into human rights violations and electoral irregularities, with the aim of ensuring accountability.

By  taking  legislative action, through a bill or resolution, condemning the human rights abuses of Hun Sen’s regime, you would join the global community in standing up for democracy and human rights, sending a clear message to the Cambodian government that its actions are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. 

Cambodia, as a member of the United Nations and a signatory to various international agreements and treaties, has an obligation to uphold democratic values and ensure free and fair elections. Unless the international community takes strong actions for the 2023 election, nothing will prevent Hun Sen from further solidifying his decades-long dictatorship. 

Your honors, as you yourselves have come to power in democratically-held elections with strong human rights protections, we are sure that you recognize and understand the importance of human rights and democracy to the prosperity and well-being of a nation. We have confidence in your commitment to these principles and hope that you will demonstrate that commitment by coming to the aid of the people of Cambodia. 

Yours sincerely,

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)

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ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) was founded in June 2013 with the objective of promoting democracy and human rights across Southeast Asia. Our founding members include many of the region's most progressive Members of Parliament (MPs), with a proven track record of human rights advocacy work.

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