Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday reiterated his stance that the country would not give in to the European Union’s recommendations on human rights and governance simply to preserve the country’s status under the trade bloc’s Everything But Arms (EBA) program.
The EU is currently considering withdrawing Cambodia from the EBA—which gives developing nations tariff-free access to the European markets for all products except arms.
In a Nov. 12 preliminary report, the EU warned Cambodia that it has not taken enough measures to prevent a loss of its special trade privileges, noting the country’s further deterioration of civil, political, labor, social, and cultural rights since the launch of a review process in February.
Cambodia has until Thursday to respond to the report, at which point the EU will finalize it and make a decision in February 2020 on whether to withdraw EBA status.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh Wednesday, Hun Sen said he is not interested in Thursday’s deadline, and cannot concede 100 percent effort on the issue.
The prime minister said that should the EU rescind EBA status from Cambodia it would not only affect Cambodia negatively, but would also take away EU leverage in Phnom Penh.
“What [the EBA] has done for us will be wasted. [The EU’s] leverage will be reduced. It means [they] will also help in killing the opposition,” he said.
Hun Sen’s troubles with EU trade policy began when he had Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Kem Sokha arrested on “treason” charges and the party banned in 2017.
Rong Chhun, President of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, told RFA’s Khmer Service that Hun Sen’s comment is showing that he is worried about losing EBA status.
Rong Chhun urged Hun Sen to work the issues out with the EU to make sure that Cambodia will continue to receive EBA benefits for the sake of the people.
“If we lose EBA, [Hun Sen] will continue to receive more international sanctions that will lead Cambodia to social and economic crisis,” said Rong Chhun.
Sam Rainsy responds
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who is visiting the U.S., told RFA that if Hun Sen’s government ignores the EU recommendations through February, workers, and the people in general, would protest against the Cambodian government.
The acting president of the CNRP said, “Hun Sen does not want to change. The EU wants Hun Sen to behave for his own good and for the sake of Cambodia. But now Hun Sen refuses [to implement the recommendations], which will lead to international sanctions.”
“We all must protest that we all need freedom [if we want] to avoid sanctions, if we keep Hun Sen’s regime there will no freedom and no employment,” he added.
“I appeal to the armed forces to stop Hun Sen’s regime. Hun Sen’s regime has caused the country to lose,” said Sam Rainsy.
He added that the sanctions will also cause Cambodia’s reputation on the world stage to deteriorate.
“Now our leader is a criminal and we are losing our face, we must revolt to topple this regime,” he said.
Sam Rainsy told RFA that he met officials at the State Department and several congressmen Wednesday who are watching the situation in Cambodia closely.
He plans on Thursday include meeting with representatives of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI).
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.