Aid Threatened as EU Calls for Rainsy’s Return

The European Parliament on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling on the Cambodian government to revoke the arrest warrant for opposition leader Sam Rainsy, with its parliamentarians suggesting some $435 million in aid be canceled if it is ignored.

The resolution, which also criticizes deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha’s removal as National Assembly vice president last month at the hands of the CPP, passed with the approval of 567 of the 630 members of parliament. Twenty-seven voted against it, and 36 abstained.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy greets the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, after it passed a resolution on Cambodia on Thursday, in this still image from a live broadcast
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy greets the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, after it passed a resolution on Cambodia on Thursday, in this still image from a live broadcast

It calls on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government “to revoke the arrest warrant and all charges issued against opposition leader Sam Rainsy and CNRP members of the National Assembly and Senate” and “to end political use of the courts to prosecute people.”

Mr. Rainsy, who attended the vote in Strasbourg, France, was ordered arrested two weeks ago over an 2011 court decision sentencing him to two years’ prison. The warrant came amid an offensive on the CNRP, including the public beating of two lawmakers by a throng of pro-CPP protesters.

The new resolution also calls for the “prosecution of all those responsible for the recent brutal attack on the two CNRP members of the National Assembly by members of the armed forces.” Only three soldiers have been arrested for the October 26 attack.

The European Union is Cambodia’s single biggest aid donor, having pledged 410 million euros (about $435 million) to the country for the period from 2014 to 2020, and the parliamentarians speaking in favor of the resolution on Thursday threatened the removal of that aid.

“We have been debating Cambodia and the situation there since some time ago,” noted Jiri Pospisil, a conservative Czech member speaking on behalf of the European People’s Party, which is the largest grouping of members in the E.U. parliament.

“We have pointed out that there was legislation adopted that goes against the private sector, which goes against civil society,” he said. “Unfortunately, [past E.U.] resolutions are not being reflected by Cambodia, even though we are Cambodia’s main partner.”

“We will be providing some several hundreds of millions of euros over the next few years. I would like to call on the [European] Commission to re-evaluate how eager we are to support Cambodia when our calls to support democracy are being ignored,” he said.

Speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats grouping, Croatian liberal member Ivan Jakovcic also noted the E.U.’s large aid contribution to Cambodia and said he believed it meant Europe was helping to prop up Mr. Hun Sen’s authoritarian regime.

“The European Union between 2014 to 2020 will help Cambodia’s development with 410 million euros. The result of this aid is that we now have a repressive regime which suppresses human rights and which has brought Cambodia to the brink of poverty,” Mr. Jakovcic said.

“This is why we must act. This is why I support this resolution,” he said. “We are clearly saying that we do not accept this situation and we require changes.”

Populist Italian member Ignazio Carrao said recent events like Mr. Rainsy’s arrest warrant and the assault on CNRP lawmakers by pro-CPP protesters were merely symptoms of a broader problem with Cambodia’s government.

“The violations of human rights and the repression that we are witnessing in Cambodia can really be summarized by the corruption that exists in Cambodian politics,” said Mr. Carrao.

“As a matter of fact, Cambodia is on sale—both its resources, the forests, the lakes, the oil but also human rights, they are on sale too —the 700,000 people forced to move on so they can proceed on to land grabbing.”

French socialist Jean-Paul Denanot went a step further, declining even to characterize Mr. Hun Sen’s regime as civilian.

“It’s true that the military regime in Cambodia is corrupt and I think we have to fight against anti-democratic procedures, also because it closes the door to development,” he said. “Cambodia has a tormented history and we need to help it find a path to democracy.”

While 27 members of the E.U. parliament voted against the resolution, none rose to speak against it.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said after the vote that he could not believe the E.U. would threaten to withhold aid in order to convince the Cambodian government to overturn a decision made by the courts.

“I don’t understand. They are taking money to buy the law in Cambodia. It’s difficult,” he said.

“We want to get the money, but we want to get that money in a legal way. I admire that they are daring enough to use their money to buy the law. I don’t know what the leaders of the government will think, but for me, they cannot buy Cambodia’s democracy or law.”

Speaking by telephone from Strasbourg after the vote, Mr. Rainsy said he would now wait to see what the European Commission, the executive wing of the E.U., did with the resolution passed by the parliament.

“I hope the Cambodian government will understand the situation and that they will avoid any cuts or reductions in aid from the E.U.,” Mr. Rainsy said.

Asked if he had plans to return to Cambodia, Mr. Rainsy said he objected to the premise of the question.

“Many people ask me this question. It is as if they don’t understand the ultimate objective is to bring about democratic change in Cambodia. A strategy to achieve this is very complex,” Mr. Rainsy said.

“It is not going back to Cambodia for the sake of going back to Cambodia. It doesn’t help to go back just for the sake of it. We have to make sure the democratic forces have freedom and margin for maneuver,” he added.

“We have to take into account the whole situation and not just answer the question ‘When are you coming back?’ It is too narrow and does not shed light on what must be done to bring democratic change.”

Mr. Rainsy said that the CNRP had members who could continue the fight here while he is abroad.

“My physical presence is not indispensable. In this modern world, physical presence is not as important as communicating with the people on the front line. I can be in contact with them anywhere and anytime,” he said.

“I am coming back when there is a guarantee we can set about democratic change.”

(Additional reporting by Khy Sovuthy)

[email protected]

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the resolution described Kem Sokha’s removal as National Assembly vice president as “illegal.” The final version of the resolution passed by the E.U. parliament removed this description.

© 2015, All rights reserved.