WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called on the Cambodian government to adopt more transparent, fair, and democratic processes for the Cambodian people. In a letter to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, the senators expressed serious concern over the recent increase in social and political turmoil in Cambodia – which has included illegal land-grabbing, attacks against opposition lawmakers, and a rise in human trafficking – and called for the immediate release of American citizen and human rights activist, Meach Sovannara, who has been jailed in Cambodia since last summer.
“We write to you as friends of Cambodia who wish to see a strong relationship between our two nations and a smooth transition from decades of violence and instability to a more prosperous and democratic Cambodia. Unfortunately, a series of incidents over recent months, including attacks by the Cambodian People’s Party supporters against Cambodian National Rescue Party lawmakers in front of the Parliament Building in October, have undermined the democratic process,” wrote the senators. “The United States is a signatory of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords and we will continue to monitor Cambodia’s progress closely.”
The full text of the letter is available online and below:
Prime Minister Hun Sen
Kingdom of Cambodia
c/o Royal Embassy of Cambodia to the United States
4530 16th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20011
Dear Prime Minister Hun Sen,
We write to you as friends of Cambodia who wish to see a strong relationship between our two nations and a smooth transition from decades of violence and instability to a more prosperous and democratic Cambodia. We are therefore troubled by the recent increase in social and political turmoil in your country. In particular, we are troubled by the numerous reports that your government continues to deny the legitimate demands of ordinary Cambodians for a more transparent, fair, and democratic Cambodia.
We were concerned by the reports of widespread irregularities observed during the 2013 national elections, but remain hopeful that the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) will respect the will of the Cambodian people and allow opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmakers to exercise their democratic mandate free from fear or intimidation. Unfortunately, a series of incidents over recent months, including attacks by CPP supporters against CNRP lawmakers in front of the Parliament Building in October, have undermined the democratic process.
We are also disturbed by the reports of systematic property and land appropriation that continues in Cambodia, whereby domestic and transnational companies and individuals connected to the government have been able to acquire large amounts of land throughout the country. According to a report by the International Federation for Human Rights, an estimated 830,000 people have been adversely affected by this phenomenon over the last 15 years, contributing further to poverty and society instability, while enriching the fortunate few. If Cambodia is to develop its economy in a sustainable way, we believe people’s land rights must be respected and illegal evictions must stop.
Finally, we continue to have concerns about Cambodia’s record on human trafficking. The 2015 State Department Trafficking in Persons Report notes that all of Cambodia’s provinces are a source for trafficking. We strongly urge Cambodia to combat human trafficking by implementing a nationwide program to identify vulnerable groups, increase services for victims, and by improving efforts to prosecute traffickers.
The United States is a signatory of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords and we will continue to monitor Cambodia’s progress closely. We support the December 2015 letter by Members of the U.S. House of Representatives who called on your government to allow all opposition lawmakers to “return to Cambodia without fear of arrest and persecution,” and end the “harassment and intimidation of Cambodia’s rights activists.” We also request the immediate release of American citizen and Human Rights activist Meach Sovannara, who has been jailed since July 2015. Finally, we call upon you to ensure that illegal land-grabbing is brought to a swift end, and that those who have committed land-related crimes are brought to justice.
Christopher S. Murphy