Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen weaves a traditional cotton scarf In Phnom Penh in June. He won the recent Cambodia election in a landslide after literally rigging the vote by banning the main opposition party, among other tricks. Photo: AP/Heng Sinith

Early this month, representatives of the Cambodian diaspora in Sydney, including members of the dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party and Khmer Krom monks, met with the president of the Australian Senate, Scott Ryan, seeking explanations after he led a delegation to attend the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum (APPF) in Cambodia in January.

Shortly after Senator Ryan returned to Australia, the Cambodian diaspora issued a statement objecting to “Australia’s cooperation with the Cambodian government” in light of last year’s declaration in which Australia joined with 44 other nations is stating that “for the Cambodian government to retain its legitimacy, any elections must be free, fair and credible.”

In violation of that declaration, incumbent Prime Minister Hun Sen and his regime proceeded to hold the election and thereafter was sworn in by the country’s king.

Ryan informed members of the diaspora community, including this writer, of his reasons for leading the delegation to Cambodia, as Australia will be the host of the next APPF in 2020.

Sawathey Ek [left) and members of the Cambodian diaspora met with the president of the Australian Senate, Scott Ryan (center), in Sydney this month. Photo: Venerable Nou Vila, representative of Khmer Krom

This writer took the opportunity to remind Senator Ryan of the pain and suffering endured by Cambodians under the leadership of Hun Sen’s regime for the last 30 years. Further, the current government was formed after Hun Sen obliterated democratic institutions and violated domestic laws and international multilateral agreements under the 1991 Paris Peace Accords.

Legitimizing lawbreakers

The joint statement issued by the 45 nations did not turn into actions. Logically, Cambodia’s current parliamentarians are not legitimate representatives of the Cambodian people, and yet the international community, including the APPF, continues to give Hun Sen and his law-breaker parliamentarians the oxygen they need to legitimize them as lawmakers.

A “historic mistake” is being sustained by these actions in the same way as the United Nations ceded to Hun Sen’s wish to hold a co-prime ministership after his election loss in 1993. That was the easy option. Now as Hun Sen crushes political opponents, the easy option is to recognize his illegal government by endorsing his lawbreakers as legitimate lawmakers.

Australia, the other 44 signatories of the joint statement and members of the UN Human Rights Council have betrayed not just ordinary Cambodians who depend on legitimacy as a weapon, but more significantly their own declaration – “An electoral process from which the main democratic opposition party has been arbitrarily excluded cannot be considered genuine or legitimate.”

As the international community, including the APPF, continues to engage with Hun Sen’s lawbreaker parliamentarians, the dictatorship is sustained into the next generation.

Hun Sen’s pawns

Next year, Australia will host the APPF’s 28th session. After 30 years under Hun Sen’s villainous regime, questions should be addressed relating to Cambodia’s parliamentarians: Should Australia exclude them from the APPF in 2020?

In other words, should the APPF be a forum validating Hun Sen’s lawbreakers as lawmakers? Their “appointment,” as opposed to their “election,” was rubber-stamped in violation of the country’s constitution and the 1991 Peace Accords.

Under Hun Sen, all institutions – the judiciary, the banking system and the monarchy – only serve him and the power-hungry elites, most of whom engage in political and economic corruption by using Cambodia’s parliament as a house of embezzlement

Under Hun Sen, all institutions – the judiciary, the banking system and the monarchy – only serve him and the power-hungry elites, most of whom engage in political and economic corruption by using Cambodia’s parliament as a house of embezzlement.

Cambodia’s so-called parliamentarians are nothing more than Hun Sen’s pawns. They are chosen and removed at Hun Sen’s call as opposed to being elected. While lawmakers of a sovereign nation serve the people and their nations, Hun Sen’s “lawbreakers” serve no one but Hun Sen and his legacy.

Before the July 29 election, the Cambodian People’s Party “nominated” several high-ranking military and police officials for seats in the National Assembly. Three of Hun Sen’s generals, including Pol Saroeun – featured as one of Cambodia’s “dirty dozen generals” by Human Rights Watch – “stepped down” from their senior military roles to run for Parliament. And then, undeterred by the recent condemnations of his evil tactics to destroy the opposition party and democracy, Hun Sen moved his lawmakers as if they were chess pieces. Once the former army generals got elected, Hun Sen removed them from their parliamentary posts and rewarded them with ministerial positions.

The APPF in January, instead of using the forum to oppose the Cambodian regime, once again allowed itself to be manipulated

Instead of using the opportunity to speak out against the host nation, the APPF, like the United Nations before it, failed to take action for the people of Cambodia against dictators who rely on military forces to crush those seeking to implement advancements promoted by the APPF.

Sustaining dictatorship

It is ludicrous for a forum claiming to promote “greater regional identification and cooperation with a particular focus on: cooperation for the further advancement of peace, freedom, democracy, and prosperity” while its members ignore Cambodia’s political plight as Hun Sen crushes democracy and commits crimes, not in the shadows but right under their gaze. The APPF overlooked Hun Sen’s regime, as the Korean Peninsula and the Rohingya became a focal point.

The forum failed to urge Cambodia to clean up its own back yard as members were seduced by the sight of Cambodia’s high-rise apartment buildings and political stability.

According to Freedom House, Cambodia’s rule-of-law rating is three out of 16 and the country’s judicial independence scored zero out of four, as the “judiciary is marred by corruption and a lack of independence. Judges have played a central role in the government’s ability to pursue charges against a broad range of opposition politicians.”

Every criticism of the regime is deemed an act of calumny because under the patronage system, Hun Sen’s lawmakers are shielded with honors accorded by the monarch.

On the “prosperity” front, Freedom House gives Cambodia one point out of four, judged in reference to the question “Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?” The report notes, “Equality of opportunity is severely limited in Cambodia, where a small elite controls most of the economy. Labor conditions can be harsh, sometimes sparking protests.”

With political rights, freedom and civil liberties rated by Freedom House as almost non-existent, Cambodia is not a country led by legitimate men and women with legitimate interests. Julian Hill, a Labor member of the Australian Parliament, has described it as a “thuggish regime.”

With an election coming up in Australia in the next few months, whichever party forms the next government, Cambodia’s legitimacy and diplomatic recognition should be revised in accordance with the declaration that Australia pledged with 44 other nations in March last year.

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