Opposition Lawmakers Stage Walkout

Twenty opposition parliamentarians stormed out of a National Assembly meeting yesterday after a CPP lawmaker aimed an insult at Human Rights Party (HRP) President Kem Sokha, who had taken the floor to discuss the mounting international pressure on Cambodia to address its human rights record.

During a discussion meant to focus on two international nuclear safety and non-proliferation conventions, Mr. Sokha took the assembly floor and shifted the topic of conversation to the increasing attention being paid to Cambodia’s poor human rights situation.

“I have sat here for almost four years…and now I want to speak for the nation,” Mr. Sokha said, beginning a 20-minute speech on the floor of the National Assembly.

“The government’s response to the international community’s reaction to human rights violence is always negative,” Mr. Sokha said. “We have to gather for national reconciliation for the benefit of the people and not the party. We cannot make Cambodian citizens the enemy,” he said.

Once Mr. Sokha wrapped up his speech and sat down, National Assembly President Heng Samrin began his reply.

“Now we sit here and talk, it means that reconciliation has already happened,” Mr. Samrin said. “We have implemented internal rules and we now let opposition party members talk.”

Following Mr. Samrin’s response, CPP lawmaker Chheng Vun stood up and began berating Mr. Sokha.

“What Mr. Sokha said; he is like a Banong or an uneducated person and it is unacceptable,” Mr. Vun said, referring pejoratively to the Banong ethnic minority, who live predominately in Mondolkiri province.

“I think what Mr. Sokha said is a huge disaster for Cambodia. You [Mr. Sokha] did nothing for the country to develop while we [the CPP] did many things.”

After Mr. Vun’s outburst, 20 opposition lawmakers from the Sam Rainsy Party and HRP stood up and left the National Assembly.

Mr. Sokha’s comments came after some of the U.S.’ most senior lawmakers wrote an open letter to U.S. President Barack Obama earlier this week, urging him to raise Cambodia’s deteriorating human rights situation when he attends next week’s Asean and East Asia summits.

As with resolutions passed last month by the Australian Senate and European Parliament, the letter from the U.S. lawmakers urged Cambodia’s government to allow SRP President Sam Rainsy to participate in July’s national elections and called for the immediate release of independent radio station owner Mam Sonando, who was imprisoned for 20 years on what human rights activists have called trumped up charges.

“We walked out in boycott because it is unacceptable when they pejoratively call us Banong or indigenous or uneducated,” said SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann outside Parliament yesterday.

“We want to inform the national and international community that this Parliament has become a dictatorship and is losing its value because of the CPP.”

Boisterous debate in Cambodia’s Parliament where elected members of the country’s main political parties argue their points on the floor is rare. After a fact-finding mission to Phnom Penh in June 2011, U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, Surya Subedi, noted that the National Assembly was not allowing freedom of speech and was failing to fulfill its mandate as a check on the executive.

“Some of the current internal rules of procedure of the National Assembly are not conducive to enabling all members to enjoy freedom of speech,” Mr. Subedi said at a press conference at the time.

“A properly functioning democracy requires effective checks on the executive and the majority.”

The 123-seat National Assembly is currently comprised of 90 CPP lawmakers, 29 members of the opposition SRP and HRP parties and 2 members each from the Funcinpec and Norodom Ranariddh parties, giving Prime Minister Hun Sen’s CPP an uncontested majority.

After the opposition lawmakers staged their walkout yesterday, the remaining CPP parliamentarians unanimously passed the two nuclear conventions.

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