CAMBODIA: Continuous repression of opposition political parties

Cambodian courts have recently issued arrest warrants for top Cambodian politicians living in exile, as they began preparations to return to Cambodia. Among those for whom warrants have been issued are Sam Rainsy, founder of the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Mu Sochua and Eng Chhay Eang, as well as five others.

While Cambodia adopted a democratic constitution after the May 1993 elections, as well as accepting parliamentary democracy, the repression of opposition parties and activists has been continuously practiced by the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Although Hun Sen’s party lost in the May 1993 elections, the winning FUNCINPEC Party led by Prince Norodom Ranariddh was not allowed to take over. Instead, Prince Ranariddh was forced into a coalition government with Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), creating a government with two Prime Ministers. Similarly, all ministries had ministers from both parties. This ludicrous situation was made possible by the control the CPP had over the military, as well as in order to avoid a civil war.

However, a few years later in 1997, a coup occurred, in which dozens of people were killed. Since then, the opposition has been severely repressed in all subsequent elections. As a result, Hun Sen was able to show his CPP as having the majority. Most recently, the CPP won all 125 seats in parliament, in an election widely condemned by the international community as a sham.

One of the major opposition political parties to emerge in the post-May 1993 period was Sam Rainsy’s CNRP. Sam Rainsy was constantly persecuted however, and finally had to live in exile for a long period of time. At the grassroots level, CNRP members were often murdered or subjected to many other forms of punishment. A similar fate was shared by all other opposition groups, including elected officials. They too often had to leave Cambodia and work from abroad.

The latest issue of warrants against opposition leaders is the continuation of this repression by the CPP government. The central aim is to keep alive the facade of holding elections and the appearance of parliamentary democracy, while the actual form of government that prevails in the country is a tyranny.

Unfortunately, the United Nations sponsored 1993 elections were not followed up with a firm determination by the international community to develop parliamentary democracy and enforce the Cambodian Constitution of 1993. As a result, democracy and rule of law were never consolidated in the country. Rather than rule of law, what prevails at present is the rule of the CPP, which is completely controlled by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

It is essential for the international community and the people of Cambodia to assert the rights of having vigorous opposition parties, with a view towards promoting genuine democracy and the fulfillment of all human rights. This must begin by pressuring for the withdrawal of the warrants against the opposition leaders, and seeking guarantees for their safe return to Cambodia, where they will not be prosecuted.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-014-2019
Countries : Cambodia,
Issues : Administration of justice, Civil and Political Rights, Democracy, Freedom of expression,