Phnom Penh Municipal Court 5 March extended pre-trial detention of jailed opposition leader Kem Sokha for up to an additional six months; Sokha was arrested in Sept 2017 and charged with treason. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein 7 March told Human Rights Council he is “seriously concerned at increasing moves to repress dissent and close political and civil society space” in Cambodia. UN special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith, 14 March called on govt to repeal Nov 2017 ban on opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). At UN Human Rights Council in Geneva 22 March, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore described “serious deterioration” of human rights in Cambodia. Australia, Canada, EU, France, Norway, Sweden, U.S. and several NGOs also expressed concern and decried intimidation of govt critics, while China and Venezuela defended Cambodia. 45 countries endorsed statement 21 March expressing “deep concern about the recent serious decline of civil and political rights in Cambodia”.
The violent border clashes between Thailand and Cambodia earlier this year have challenged the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to turn its rhetoric into action, but to achieve peace and security more robust diplomacy is required to end a still unresolved conflict.
Almost a decade after the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements, Cambodia is at peace and the government is at last secure enough to contemplate the trials of some Khmer Rouge leaders.
The international community collectively heaved a sigh of relief when Cambodia’s rival factions moved back from the brink of disaster and agreed to form a fresh coalition government in November 1998 after weeks of violent protests and political deadlock.
Cambodia’s electoral process re-lit the candle of democracy that had first flickered into flame with the restoration of peace in 1991, after more than two decades of strife.
Cambodia is set to take to the polls in barely six weeks time, with some fearing the elections will cement in place a de facto dictatorship and others seeing them as the last chance to ensure that the country’s fledgling democratic process remains on track.
Originally published in The Jakarta Post