Letter Urges Kerry to Pressure Government on Human Rights

Ahead of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s planned visit to Cambodia this week, local and international NGOs have urged Mr. Kerry not to sign any new bilateral agreements unless Cambodia vows to improve its human rights and democracy efforts.

“Repression, human rights abuses, and impunity in Cambodia must stop,” reads the open letter, which was released on Sunday and signed by the directors of the International Federation for Human Rights, Adhoc, Licadho, Forum-Asia and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.

“This is a message that Prime Minister Hun Sen must hear loud and clear,” the letter continues, after singling out the role of the judiciary “as a tool to retaliate against activism” by human rights defenders, opposition politicians and trade unionists.

Mr. Kerry is scheduled to arrive in Cambodia tonight and, in a packed schedule on Tuesday, meet with Prime Minister Hun Sen, Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong, deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha and civil society leaders.

The letter cited a November statement issued by Rhona Smith, the U.N.’s human rights envoy to Cambodia, who warned that, “Any intensification of current events could bring Cambodia to a dangerous tipping point,” specifically noting incidents of violence and intimidation in the political arena.

Calling the Cambodian military one of the government’s “instruments to repress and silence civil society,” the letter also asks Mr. Kerry to stop U.S. training and assistance of “Cambodia’s abusive armed forces.”

U.S. Embassy spokesman Jay Raman declined to say whether Mr. Kerry would discuss the issues outlined in the letter during his meetings with government officials.

Asked about the request for the U.S. to halt military cooperation with Cambodia, Mr. Raman said: “I can’t speculate on what the United States might or might not do in the future.”

(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)

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