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Social unrest has been brewing in Cambodia under Hun Sen’s regime for years now, stoked by violent crackdowns, corruption, attacks on the free press, and the silencing and oppression of workers. Each of these political and legislative developments is indicative of a broader deterioration of democracy that has thrust Cambodia into crisis and has the potential to destabilize the region.
Hun Sen has manipulated the country’s political and legal system to establish authoritarianism in the region with him as the sole authority, preserving his power through violent crackdowns against his own people.
He sends military troops to attack and silence villagers refusing illegal land grabs, orchestrates the assassinations of activists like Kem Ley, and mobilizes his army against protesters. He secured his grip on power by dissolving the Cambodia National Rescue Party, the popular opposition party, and forcing its leaders into exile with no home.
This is not democracy; it is a dictatorship.
Since Hun Sen firmly controls the government, companies linked to the Hun family do not have to comply with anti-corruption laws.
Hun Sen’s immediate family has registered interests in 114 private domestic companies—90% of these companies have family members as chair people, director, or shareholding more than 25%.
A major industry with ties to the family is Cambodia’s black-market trade in illegal logs across Cambodia to sell to China for Hongmu furniture, which is deemed lavish and expensive. To reap the most profits, Hun Sen’s government has displaced thousands of people to tear their land apart for the timber trade.
Attacks on the Free Press
Hun Sen is intimidating, imprisoning, and silencing political activists, human rights defenders, and journalists across the region in an all-out assault on peaceful opposition and open discourse.
To quell criticism, Hun Sen’s regime has shut down Cambodia’s largest independent newspaper, the Cambodia Daily, and more than 19 radio stations. His family members hold stakes across local and international media, specifically his daughter Hun Mana owns Bayon Media High System, a major radio and TV station, and is linked to five other media companies in the region.
In 2018, the government passed five constitutional amendments that codify Hun Sen’s repression of independent voices and prohibit any attempt to restore basic rights in the country.
Silencing and Oppressing Workers
Hun Sen’s attacks on freedom of association and freedom of speech have restricted the ability of labor unions to organize, carry out basic governance and representative functions, and even maintain their legal status.
Following worker protests for higher wages in 2014, criminal charges were brought against prominent union leaders. In 2016, after labor activists and bus workers protested dismissals during attempts to unionize, union leaders were jailed.
Eroding freedom of association and limiting the rights of labor unions undermines democratic society and economic growth. Workers must be valued and supported, not restricted and silenced.
Amidst physical threats, arrests, and exile, Cambodians, the international community, businesses and leaders of the Cambodia National Rescue Party are mobilizing across the world to call for the restoration for democracy and human rights in Cambodia.
The International Community
There is a growing outcry from the international community, expressing their deep concerns over the deterioration of democracy and human rights violations.
After the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, the United States and the European Union have threatened asset freezes and travel bans if the 2018 elections are not free and fair.
At the 37th session of the Human Rights Council to the United Nations, 45 countries signed a joint-statement urging the Cambodian government to reinstate CNRP and to allow all opposition parties to participate in national elections.
Cambodians across the world are mobilizing to stand up against Hun Sen’s government.
From Cambodia to Australia to Europe to the United States, protests have erupted to urge international action to pressure Hun Sen to restore democracy and to protect the people of Cambodia.
During Hun Sen’s visit to the ASEAN Special Summit in Australia, over 600 people protested, despite his threats of retaliation. During a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Cambodians united and waved flags to show their resolve. And every day across Cambodia, landowners fight for their right to their own land—going head to head with military troops, and often risking their lives.
The Business Community
The garment industry is speaking out against the instability and controversial labor laws in Cambodia, as they disrupt the wellbeing of workers and create an unattractive business environment for foreign investments.
The US-based trade group, American Apparel & Footwear Association, the UK-based advocacy group, Ethical Trading Initiative, and others representing brands like Gap, H&M, and ASOS sent a letter to Cambodian leaders urging them to reform contentious labor laws and strengthen fairness in Cambodian factories. After a closed-door meeting with the Cambodian government, VF Corporation, the parent company of brands like North Face and Timberland, refuted claims that the company was satisfied with the country’s efforts to improve workers rights.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party & Movement
After the dissolution of their party, CNRP opposition leaders have formed the Cambodia National Rescue Movement to call on the international community to take action against Hun Sen’s government.
Across the world, leaders like Sam Rainsy, Mu Sochua, and others are standing up for human rights and appealing to policymakers to work together to restore democracy in the region. Connecting with government officials on every continent, Sochua and Rainsy are fighting for the democracy of their country and the protection of the basic rights of the people of Cambodia.
The reinstatement of the Cambodia National Rescue Party to run in the 2018 national elections is the first and most critical step to achieving this.