Amid Turmoil, EU Calls for Review of Aid To Cambodia

The European Parliament on Thursday passed a resolution accusing the Cambodian government of laying politically motivated charges against the opposition and calling for aid cuts if its respect for human rights fails to improve—a loud echo of a resolution it passed just six months ago.

Passed by a show of hands during a plenary session in Strasbourg, France, the resolution holds up the $465 million in aid committed to Cambodia through 2020 and urges the European Commission to make “financial assistance dependant on improvements in the human rights situation.”

The European Parliament’s plenary room in Strasbourg, France (Reuters)
The European Parliament’s plenary room in Strasbourg, France (Reuters)

It calls on Cambodia to revoke arrest warrants for opposition leader Sam Rainsy, to release the four human rights workers and election official arrested in April as part of the government’s investigation into a sex scandal involving deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha, and to drop charges against union leaders.

“We call upon the Cambodian government to cease this practice, to cease persecuting leaders of the opposition,” Barbara Lochbihler of Germany said during the session.

“Supporters are threatened, or people are violently attacked when they proceed to parliament,” she said, referring to the brutal beating of two opposition lawmakers outside the National Assembly in Phnom Penh in October.

The resolution urges the Cambodian government to conduct a full and impartial investigation into the attacks with U.N. participation. Three members of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal bodyguard unit have confessed to the beatings, but rights groups that observed the trial accused the courts of rigging the proceedings to limit the blowback.

Ignazio Corrao of Italy pointed out that the resolution was the third condemning Cambodia’s human rights record to reach the European Parliament in the space of a year.

“Today, we have to repeat that the Hun Sen government is brutally repressing not just freedom of expression and association but also any form of human rights defense,” he said.

“Perhaps we need to take a fresh look at our development aid. We shouldn’t channel it through them but through democratic channels, particularly with a view to the upcoming 2017 elections. If we’ve got the instruments, we should use them. Otherwise we’ll be here next year talking about the same thing.”

Other parliament members said they supported a fresh look at E.U. aid to Cambodia.

“If it continues behaving like this towards its opposition leaders, perhaps the Commission should re-evaluate whether that money might not be better used for migration or other similar issues,” said Jiri Pospisil, a lawmaker from the Czech Republic.

Some members were harsher still.

“Let’s call a spade a spade. Cambodia has a corrupt hierarchy. It has a kleptocracy which has governed since the times when the Khmer Rouge commander Hun Sen took power under Vietnamese tutelage and then through his own dictatorship, which was supported by armed forces. We are dealing with gangsters here,” said Spain’s Javier Nart.

“We cannot continue giving aid to this government. We cannot maintain the situation in Cambodia. We must link European Union aid to a radical improvement of human rights in that country.”

Stanislav Polcak, another Czech lawmaker, said pulling aid was the only way to force real change in Cambodia.

“The fundamental human rights, they are universal, and their violation in Cambodia must have an impact on our development aid for this country,” he said. “Otherwise, we have no real instruments to force this country to change the situation.”

Christos Stylianides, the E.U.’s commissioner for humanitarian aid, said the union regularly reminded the Cambodian government about its concerns and would continue to monitor the situation before deciding whether to observe the coming elections, which can serve as a form of endorsement in itself.

He did not address the calls to re-evaluate the E.U.’s aid to Cambodia.

In November, the European Parliament passed a similar resolution urging the Commission to make aid conditional on human rights improvements.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said on Thursday that the parliament would make better use of its time by condemning those he called the real criminals.

“They should advise those excellencies and people not to commit the crimes,” he said, referring to Mr. Rainsy and the lawmakers and rights workers the government has arrested over the past few months.

“It is very normal that whenever people commit a crime, they are arrested, handcuffed and put in prison. If such cases were to occur in any country in the E.U., they would be treated worse than this,” he said.

Cambodia was on the road to democracy, he said, “but what path would we be taking if those who commit crimes are not arrested and charged in accordance with the law?”

Mr. Eysan declined to comment on the prospects of seeing the E.U. punish Cambodia with aid cuts.

(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)

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