US Congressman Ted Yoho, Republican representative for the state of Florida and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, has introduced the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2018, which if passed would impose financial sanctions and travel bans on certain Cambodian officials, a threat shrugged off by senior ruling party officials.
In a statement released on Thursday, Yoho said the aim of the legislation was to help Cambodians, who “are starving for democracy” in “their pursuit of democracy”, by stopping Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government’s “undermining of democracy”.
“Hun Sen has used violence, threats, and sham prosecutions to attack the peaceful opposition. In 2017, the regime-controlled Parliament and Supreme Court dismantled the Cambodia National Rescue Party and banned its elected officials from office, eliminating the country’s only viable opposition party,” his statement read.
“The Cambodia Democracy Act of 2018,” he continued, “will push back against the Hun Sen regime’s undermining of democracy and related human rights abuses by applying financial sanctions to the figures who carry out this despicable agenda and codifying the Administration’s existing visa restrictions for these individuals.”
Kem Sokha, former leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, was arrested and jailed last year on “treason” charges, and the party was dissolved by the Supreme Court shortly thereafter, despite appeals from the international community urging the Cambodian government to permit it to run in the upcoming national elections.
Sok Eysan, spokesman of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said the bill proposed by the US congressman would not put pressure on the Cambodian government, and raised doubts about the US lawmaker’s influence as a member of the lower house of US Congress.
“[Yoho] just has an initiative and it needs to go through several procedures and he has nothing yet in front of the US House of Representatives or in the Senate,” Eysan said. “He can’t simply decide as he wants. On top of that, some things that he has said are not true, such as his claim that the government uses the court to oppress the opposition or its former officials – it’s just not the truth,” adding that the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party was indeed guilty of trying to orchestrate a coup against the government.
Paul Chambers, of Naresuan University in Thailand, said that while the government’s actions were “simply to ensure CPP electoral victory in July”, sanctions would probably result in unintended consequences.
“To punish Cambodia with sanctions because of human rights violations there will simply push Hun Sen closer to China,” Chambers said, referring to Hun Sen’s tilt away from Western countries in recent years.
Ou Chanrath, a former CNRP lawmaker, said that Yoho’s mere introduction of the bill would be a welcome development.
“Though [the US Congress has] not yet voted on the bill, what they have done already has been heard around the world, and it will have an effect on the reputation of the country,” Chanrath said.