Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has been met recently with a wave of protests by Cambodia’s diaspora communities living abroad, urging the international community to condemn his government as fake and illegal.
These relentless and coordinated protests, starting from Australia, the US, South Korea and Japan, followed the July national election that the US government declared as flawed.
Second, as this bellicose leader attended international summits aiming to legitimize his authoritarian regime, the diaspora has attempted to exercise their rights on behalf of those in Cambodia banned from protesting against the regime.
Another rally in Europe is being planned as Hun Sen is scheduled to participate in an official summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the European Union in Brussels this month.
As Hun Sen’s attendance at the Brussels summit approaches, the international community is being urged to stop sending inconsistent messages to dictators.
Cambodia’s authoritarian regime must be rejected and declared to have no place in the country’s contemporary society. One obvious reason is contained in the joint statement of 45 countries delivered in March to the United Nations Human Rights Council, that for “the Cambodian government to retain its legitimacy, any elections must be free, fair and credible.”
Given that the current government was formed from a shambolic and flawed national election, prima facie, this regime has no international legitimacy, and as such it should not be recognized – unless the UN had no intention of putting those words into action.
Now that Cambodia’s democracy is officially declared dead and the UN is witnessing Cambodians’ aspirations being stripped off by Hun Sen – contrary to the 1991 Paris Peace Accords – logically the UN should have revoked Cambodia’s credentials, as was done once before, in 1997.
But in 2018, given that Hun Sen’s destruction of Cambodia’s democracy was met with international opprobrium, it was unacceptable for the United Nations to accord him the opportunity to lecture world leaders on peace and security last month before the UN General Assembly.
Under Hun Sen, intimidation, harassment, naming, shaming and killings became the new lexicological elements associated with this obstreperous leadership. That is to be expected as Hun Sen was mentored as a cadet under Asia’s worst mass killer, Pol Pot.
Indeed, this war-like leader still thinks he is engaging in civil war as he regularly threatens Cambodia with “civil war” if he is not elected.
The second reason for declaring Cambodia’s authoritarianism illegal is found in the suffering of its people. The history of Cambodia’s genocide seems like yesteryear as it is so raw and steeped in the minds and hearts of millions of victims – filled with sheer suffering, bloodshed and tears.
Further, there has been almost 30 years of incessant international efforts to rebuild and rehabilitate Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge holocaust.
Now with a newly acquired ignominious title “authoritarian” being added to “strongman,” Hun Sen is keen to justify his stance that authoritarianism protects Cambodia’s sovereignty and nationalism – with no regards to those Cambodians’ aspirations.
On the other hand, Hun Sen’s loyal inner circle – the so-called “elites” –and cronies including the judiciary, the military and governmental institutions are eager to support him in anything he berates, so long as impunity is the prize at the end of the day. This neo-patrimonial system has allowed Hun Sen to survive while tycoons are allowed to run the country without institutional checks and balances.
Early this month, when the European Commission released a statement of its impending withdrawal of tax concession under its “Everything But Arms” scheme, Hun Sen delivered an obstreperous response while in Tokyo: “Don’t exchange national sovereignty with aid.”
The reality is that such fundamental tenets as national sovereignty and human rights expounded by Hun Sen – as everything else, from a fake national election, to a faux military, monarchy and judicial – are all for show. For this truculent authoritarian, those principles only exist for him and his supporters. Everyone else is deemed “traitors” or “serving foreign elements.”
Another excuse Hun Sen often voices is “non-interference.” Again this must be rejected. There is no basis for this authoritarian now to turn around and claim that the world can trust him as a protector of Cambodia’s peace and development and that his egregious abuses of human rights should be overlooked.
History has proved repeatedly that the principle of non-interference is merely a tenet of wisdom. Take China is as a clear example. The fact that it is willing to provide an economic pipeline to Cambodia is clear evidence of its interference with Cambodian domestic politics aimed at strengthening, as in the case of Pol Pot, Cambodia’s current authoritarian leader to advance Beijing’s own economic and political ambitions.
Third, according to the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, Cambodians are entitled to claim that the international community has a duty to protect them from communism and authoritarianism.
Hun Sen signed those Paris Peace Accords with the international community in 1991. He has ruled uninterrupted for the last 27 years. Article 15 of the accords stipulates that the “past practices and policies shall never be allowed to return.” This is Cambodia’s reciprocal obligation to the international community for being a beneficiary of a large chunk of funding during the last 28 years.
Given all of that, one must ask: What prospect of change is there for Cambodians to rise up against the might of Hun Sen backed by China, with the UN and the international community joining forces to accord this authoritarian diplomatic recognition and legitimacy?
Aspirations and dreams alone cannot be the driving forces to eradicate authoritarianism. International legitimacy is the weapon.
The international community, particularly the West, is urged to impose diplomatic sanctions on Cambodia, and the UN should start by suspending its credentials – something that China’s money cannot buy for Hun Sen.