Mon the 14th Waxing of Āsāḷha B.E.2560, July 18, A.D.2016 Year of the Monkey
The Associated Press, by Sopheng Cheang, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 18, 2016
Tom Malinowski, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Photo courtesy VOA
A visiting U.S. human rights envoy held talks Monday focused on Cambodia’s political situation and human rights, said the Cambodian foreign ministry official who met with him.
Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski arrived in Cambodia as political tensions are mounting, just over a week after the killing of prominent political commentator Kem Ley, who was often sharply critical of the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Police say his killer confessed to committing the murder because of a grudge about an unpaid debt, but the shooting is widely believed to have been a political act.
Malinowski met with Foreign Ministry Secretary of State Ouch Borith, who spoke to reporters afterward. He said he had defended his government’s policy to the U.S. diplomat, who left the meeting without talking to journalists.
The State Department had announced ahead of Malinowski’s two-day visit that its purpose is to “underscore the importance of human rights in the U.S.-Cambodia relationship.” It said he would meet government officials, opposition party members and others to discuss the importance of free and fair elections in Cambodia, where local elections are due next year.
There is an increasing push in the U.S. Congress to pressure Cambodia to improve its human rights record and act more democratically.
Hun Sen’s government last year began cracking down on the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party through the court system, which is considered a tool of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
Party leader Sam Rainsy remains abroad to avoid jail, while deputy leader Kem Sokha is taking refuge inside the party’s headquarters. Both face charges they allege are specious and politically motivated. Other party members and NGO workers also have come under legal and even physical attack.
Ouch Borith told reporters that he told Malinowski that the legal cases were pursued strictly because people committed crimes, and were not political.
“The government is willing to respect human rights and the rule of democracy but within the framework of the rule of law,” he said.
He blamed the Cambodia National Rescue Party for the poor political relations with the government, claiming it had broken the terms of a 2014 agreement that was meant to ease political conflict.
He said he told Malinowski that the two opposition leaders had signed the agreement, but in every forum with their supporters had strongly attacked the government, expressing “evil ideas” and inciting discrimination for their own political benefit.
The government’s crackdown began after opposition members accused it of conceding territory to neighboring Vietnam, Cambodia’s traditional enemy. The subject is a volatile one, and the charges seemed to strike a chord with the public.
“The government side always wanted to see political stability and peace happen in the country,” said Ouch Borith. “The government did really want to see political stability and peace.”