By Lauren Crothers
PHNOM PENH (AA) - European Union parliamentarians have taken the Cambodian government to task over a perceived persecution of opposition and human rights figures, and have passed a resolution seeking cuts in aid if the human rights situation in the country shows no signs of improvement.
A strongly worded statement issued by the European Parliament on Thursday said members “deplore the worsening climate for opposition politicians and human rights activists in Cambodia and condemn all acts of violence, politically-motivated charges, arbitrary detention, questioning, sentences and convictions imposed on them”.
The statement also called for the charges against self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy to be dropped and the release of four human rights workers and an election official from pre-trial detention.
The men were charged with bribery last month after assisting a woman alleged to have been the mistress of Kem Sokha, Rainsy’s deputy.
Sokha has been holed up at his party’s headquarters in a bid to try and avoid arrest after refusing to come to court over the affair.
"Given that the EU is Cambodia's largest development assistance partner, with a new allocation of 410 million euros ($465 million) for 2014-2020, Parliament calls on the European External Action Service (EEAS) to make the ‘amount of EU financial assistance dependent on improvements in the human rights situation in the country’,” the statement said.
“EU member states, foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, the EEAS and the EU Commission should also set out clear benchmarks for the forthcoming elections in Cambodia, consistent with international law on freedom of expression, association and assembly,” it added.
On Friday, The Cambodia Daily quoted a number of clearly frustrated MEPs who had spoken during Thursday’s session, including Spanish MEP Javier Nart who described the government as a “corrupt hierarchy” and a “kleptocracy” and said the EU was ultimately “dealing with gangsters here”.
He added that any further aid given to Cambodia would have to be contingent on the government being able to radically improve the human rights situation.
The passage of the resolution also coincided with the release of a statement from Tokyo-based Human Rights Now, which expressed “grave concern over the recent oppression of human rights defenders and political opposition in Cambodia”.
HRN said the government should immediately release the human rights defenders and ensure that they can work “without fear of reprisals”.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan described MEP Nart’s working as “abusive”.
“We are a sovereign nation; we are not slaves any more,” he told Anadolu Agency on Friday.
“This resolution does not represent the facts of what happens in Cambodia and they use the money to buy a rule of law and court of law to protect people of wrongdoing. They put those people above the law but we cannot, because we have to strengthen the rule of law against impunity,” he added.
“They talk about the bribe of aid to buy our sovereignty and principles, but we cannot afford that. We cannot accept that any more”.