The National Assembly (NA) has hit back at a European Parliament resolution condemning the political and human rights situation in Cambodia, calling it another display of the Parliament’s “double standards”.

Key points of the resolution include a warning that the Parliament could exclude the Kingdom from its Everything But Arms (EBA) trade scheme – which offers preferential access to European markets – as a consequence of what it sees as a deteriorating rights situation.

In a statement released on May 9, the NA said the European Parliament resolution, passed last week, was “misleading, biased, politicised, one-sided, and totally disrespectful of a sovereign state”.

It said that as an independent nation, Cambodia was “fully within its rights to manage its state affairs to protect its core national interests in line with the national and international laws”.

Citing the UN Charter and the 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, the NA said that all states – regardless of size and political systems – have equal sovereignty and right to self-determination, “which shall not be violated”, with no interference in the country’s internal affairs permitted.

The European Parliament on May 5 adopted the resolution, titled “Continuous crackdown of political opposition in Cambodia”. The six-page document raised various alarming claims relating to the political situation in Cambodia, including the “prosecution of opposition politicians, trade unionists, human rights defenders, journalists, environmentalists, students and others for expressing their opinions”.

It also said that, ahead of next month’s commune council elections and the national elections scheduled for next year, “Cambodia’s human rights situation has reached a crisis point, as the government has been carrying out an intensified crackdown on the political opposition, journalists, independent media and civil society under the guise of [enforcing] Covid-19 measures”.

The parliament called on the vice-president of the European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to “closely monitor” the situation in Cambodia, particularly to ensure that the current main opposition Candlelight Party is not dissolved under the same “ludicrous” terms that the former leading opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), faced.

It called on the Commission to monitor the upcoming local elections very closely and to be prepared to use all tools available, including a complete suspension of Cambodia’s EBA status and other sanctions, should the electoral observers find evidence of unfair elections.

The European Parliament also called on the Commission to closely monitor the situation and assess the effect of the partial EBA suspension on the most vulnerable segments of civil society.

It said the Commission should also monitor all bilateral financial support to the Cambodian government and ensure that such support goes to Cambodian civil society organisations and opposition parties.

The NA hit back, saying that the European Parliament’s latest resolution, as well as their previous statements on Cambodia, have “deliberately ignored the progress in human rights and democratic reforms in the country.”

“The European Parliament totally disregards Cambodia’s national law and democratic principles that do not grant special privileges for any individual or political party who has broken Cambodian laws,” the NA said.

“Cambodia is fully committed to protecting and promoting human rights and democracy under the Constitution, within the rule of law, and in accordance with the social, historical, and cultural context of the country. Cambodia remains steadfast in its [endeavour] to enhance democracy and political pluralism, to ensure a long-lasting peace, security and stability for the country.”

The NA also urged the European Parliament to view the country’s human rights and democracy record objectively, taking into account national and historical contexts, and to “refrain from its usual practice of double standards”.

“We call for genuine cooperation, without any hidden agenda from the European Parliament, to work with Cambodia to strengthen multilateralism in order to tackle common challenges facing the world such as climate change, pandemic, transboundary crimes and food insecurity,” it said.

The NA added that Cambodia stands ready to work with the European Parliament to enhance Cambodia-EU relations, and to strengthen the ASEAN-EU strategic partnership under the principles of equal sovereignty and independence on the basis of mutual respect, trust, understanding, and interest for peace and prosperity for all of humanity.

In February 2020, the EU withdrew 20 per cent of Cambodia’s preferential access to the EU market, citing the backsliding human rights situation in the Kingdom including the dissolution of the CNRP.

On May 4, a day before the adoption of the resolution, French member of the European Parliament Thierry Mariani advised his parliamentary colleagues to maintain good relations, be constructive with criticism of Cambodia and avoid double standards, citing the example of Vietnam, a country he said had a worse record of upholding rights than Cambodia, yet was warmly welcomed by the Parliament.

“In Vietnam, a neighbouring country [to Cambodia], we are signatories to a free trade agreement, and this is not a problem [to the Parliament]. Fundamental rights [there] are much less advanced than in Cambodia and I don’t even dare to talk about the conditions of the elections.

“In Cambodia, we impose sanctions, while in Vietnam, we sign a free trade agreement. Once again, two weights, two measures,” he said.

Mariani said sanctions will not support Cambodia’s development. Instead, he urged the EU to work with Cambodian political leaders on national plans to tackle violence against women, improve access to civil registration and identification, continue the trials against the Khmer Rouge, reform juvenile justice and establish a committee against torture.

“All is not excellent with respect to human rights in Cambodia, but the reforms are at least on the right track. Let us, rather, try to encourage them instead of blaming them,” he said.

Cambodian Institute for Democracy president Pa Chanroeun said the Kingdom should make an effort to consider and improve upon the concerns raised by the European Parliament in order to maintain its EBA status, given that the country is in a precarious economic situation as it continues to face fallout caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Cambodia should consider the concerns raised by the EU. If, by doing so, we can maintain our exports to European countries… it would be an opportunity for Cambodia to restore its reputation on the international stage, especially with regards to the promotion of human rights and democracy,” he said.