Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

EU Parliament Urges End to Political Persecution, Calls for Free and Fair Elections

Kem Sokha, former president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, leaves his home in Tuol Kork district on March 3 to hear the announcement of the verdict in his three-year-long at the Phnom Penh Municipality Court. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)
Kem Sokha, former president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, leaves his home in Tuol Kork district on March 3 to hear the announcement of the verdict in his three-year-long at the Phnom Penh Municipality Court. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)


The European Parliament called on Cambodian authorities to release former opposition leader Kem Sokha and reinstate the court-dissolved CNRP for participation in the 2023 elections in a resolution on Thursday.

The resolution urged for the Cambodian government to release political prisoners and activists, cease intimidation of opposition members and reinstate the shut down independent media outlet Voice of Democracy (VOD). 

Further suspension of Cambodia’s ‘Everything But Arms’ status may occur “if the 2023 elections deviate from international standards or violations of human rights continue,” the resolution warned.   

“[We] call on the authorities to put an end to all forms of harassment, intimidation and politically motivated criminal charges against members of the opposition,” the parliament’s resolution said. “Allo[w] all political parties to carry out equal, free and transparent electoral campaigns under a more inclusive and transparent national election committee.”

Ministry of Justice spokesperson Chin Malin, also vice president of Cambodia Human Rights Committee,  said Cambodia has not abused human rights or undermined free and transparent elections. 

“The persecution and human rights abuses do not happen in Cambodia, and it abides by the law,” he said. “Kem Sokha’s case was conducted in accordance with proper legal procedures.”

Malin said that the EU withdrawing trade preferences would not hurt Cambodia.

“We don’t let Cambodia’s sovereignty be exchanged for aid, they [EU] have already withdrawn 20% of EBA and nothing was affected,” he said. 

The European Parliament also urged the EU Council to adopt targeted sanctions “to hold accountable all persons responsible for serious human rights violations and the dissolution and subsequent repression of the Cambodian opposition.”

Chak Sopheap, Executive Director of Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the government should carefully consider the EU’s resolution since ignoring it would hurt the national interest as a whole. 

“As we know, Cambodia had suffered from withdrawal of EBA and if the situation [human rights abuse] further declines, it will result in a complete loss,” she said. “Ignoring the recommendations will not be of any benefit to the government or Cambodia.”

Opposition politicians and media have come under further pressure this year, as the July elections near.

Several top leaders for the opposition Candlelight Party were arrested or faced hefty fines.

Sokha was sentenced to 27 years imprisonment under house arrest on March 3 following a years-long trial for allegedly inciting a “color revolution.” He has since allegedly been denied access to his lawyers.

The government revoked VOD’s media license in February.

In 2020, the EU decided to withdraw 20% of Cambodia’s duty-free quota-free access to the EU market for garments, footwear, and travel goods due to serious and systematic concerns related to human rights in the country.

Cambodia’s access to the US’s Generalized System of Preferences — allowing duty-fee export of travel goods to the US’s market — was allowed to lapse in 2020 and has yet to be reauthorized.

Em Sovannara, a political analyst, believes that the Cambodian government will not follow EU parliament’s request related to the cases of Kem Sokha and other opposition officials. He said, however, this was a sign that the EU was putting greater pressure on the ruling party and government. 

“The EU is playing an important role in promoting democracy in Cambodia, and there may be some practical measures after the election,” he said. “Cambodia’s potential of attracting foreign investors and exporting to the EU will be lost if EBA is completely removed as Cambodian people would face loss of jobs.”

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