PM Defends Minister, Slams US and Human Rights Watch

Prime Minister Hun Sen defended Social Affairs Minister Vong Sauth on Thursday, confirming that he had advocated using force against protesters in a closed-door CPP strategy meeting that Mr. Sauth later retold to reporters.

The premier reserved his ire for Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), who had called for Mr. Sauth’s firing, saying Mr. Robertson was better off focusing on his chaos-ridden, war-mongering U.S. home that was unfit for the premier’s grandchild. Mr. Robertson retaliated by urging Mr. Hun Sen to “stop making excuses” for rights abuses.

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Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks at the graduation ceremony at the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh last month, in photograph posted to his Facebook page.

In a CPP central committee meeting on Sunday, Mr. Hun Sen told officials to beat any would-be election protestors with the bottom of bamboo poles, according to Mr. Sauth.

Speaking at a ceremony at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh for athletes and officials involved in upcoming 2017 Southeast Asian Games, Mr. Hun Sen stopped short of repeating the threat but said it was accurate. “I wish to clarify that I held a party meeting, and I said this: ‘I won’t allow any protests like in the tantrum period,’” he said, referring to mass protests after the 2013 election. “What I advised is to manage political stability, macroeconomic stability, and don’t allow 2013 diseases to live on.”

Mr. Hun Sen then turned his attention to Mr. Robertson, who on Wednesday urged Mr. Sauth to resign over the comments, saying as a U.S. citizen, Mr. Robertson should be focusing on events back home.

“What is the U.S doing every day? Demonstrations, shoot this, shoot that,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “Please just keep anarchy in the U.S. Don’t bring anarchy to my country.”

Calling for Mr. Sauth’s resignation had nothing to do with democracy or human rights, Mr. Hun Sen claimed, before describing how he was looking for a way for his grandchild, whom he did not name, to give up his or her U.S. citizenship.

“Now I am finding a way to renounce U.S citizenship from my grandchild because probably the U.S. will make war with some countries and will require my grandchild to be a U.S soldier,” he said.

The Social Affairs Ministry issued a statement of its own on Thursday downplaying the minister’s remarks as a “reminder to extremist groups who always frustrate the happiness of the people via protesting against election results.”

Mr. Robertson’s comments, on the other hand, caused “insecurity, social instability and interfered in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.”

While the U.S. Embassy declined to comment on the prime minister’s assessment of the country, Mr. Robertson wrote in an email that the prime minister misunderstood the mandate of HRW, whose purview included the U.S.

“Rest assured, Prime Minister—we at HRW have time enough to point out both yours and the USA’s failures to protect human rights, and we will continue to do so,” he said.

“Remember that the Cambodian government voluntarily decided to ratify and be legally bound by the many different U.N. human right treaties; these are not obligations that were imposed on Cambodia from any external power. Stop making excuses and blaming others for the Cambodian government’s blatant violations of human rights.”

(Additional reporting by Ben Paviour)

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