February 05, 2018


MR M. C. BUTLER: To move—That this House:

  • recognises:
    • the role of Australia in helping to broker the Paris Peace Accords (PPA); and
    • that one of the core promises of the PPA was to provide the Cambodian people with free and fair elections;
  • expresses serious concerns about:
    • political suppression in Cambodia, including the closure of media outlets such as the Cambodia Daily; and
    • the arrest and trial of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader, Kem Sokha, arising from a speech he delivered in Australia in 2013;
  • calls for:
    • the immediate release of Kem Sokha from detention and the removal of restrictions on civil society; and
    • greater transparency and assurance of due process in proceedings against political prisoners and dissidents;
  • condemns the move to disband the CNRP and redistribute seats to minor parties without by-elections;
  • expresses serious concerns about the timing of the actions against the CNRP and Kem Sokha in light of the impending 2018 general election; and
  • calls upon the Australian Government to impress upon the Cambodian Government the importance of free and fair elections for the Cambodian people.


Cambodia is reaching a point of political crisis. I am sorry to say that since this motion was submitted in October that the situation in Cambodia has only deteriorated.The 2017 Democracy Index, released on 31 January this year, ranked Cambodia 124th out of 167 countries, sliding 12 places down the index in just 12 months. The report described Cambodia as a de facto one-party state, a development that has been expected by those who've been watching Cambodia's political decline for some time now. The World Justice Project Rule of Law Index ranked Cambodia 112 out of 113 for 2017, ranked above only Venezuela, pointing to the extreme government over-reach, denial of fundamental rights and deep corruption present in the Hun Sen regime. Mr Kem Sokha, the imprisoned opposition leader of the now disbanded Cambodia National Rescue Party, the CNRP, is in jail because of a speech he gave here in Australia several years ago. He was denied bail just last week for so-called security concerns while his health has deteriorated in detention. The guarantee of Mr Sokha's right to due process is under extreme doubt, given comments from the regime about Mr Sokha's presumed guilt. Kem Sokha must be released immediately.

Hun Sen's regime has also forced the closure of a foreign non-government organisation and has targeted media companies, including radio stations and the main independent English language newspaper, the Cambodia Daily, which has been forced to close after 24 years. Media suppression is reaching extreme levels as Hun Sen moves to silence the voices of his fellow Cambodians and those who speak against his regime, as is his suppression of local NGOs and trade unions. Hun Sen has increased his grip on the nation and its freedoms, rejecting the labelling of Cambodia as authoritarian by the Democracy Index with his stunning statement, 'Nobody can topple Hun Sen except Hun Sen.'

Australia has a solemn duty to the Cambodian people and to our own values of democracy and freedom to oppose the anti-democratic actions in the lead-up to Cambodia's June general elections. Australia, as most Australians know, played an integral role in the Paris Peace Accords promising to safeguard the process of transitioning Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge regime and, most especially, guaranteeing free and fair elections. This element of the peace accords remains woefully unfulfilled. I

In October last year I met with the CNRP former leader, Mr Sam Rainsy, who emphasised that this situation is not business as usual, despite a long history of concerning actions by the Hun Sen regime. These latest outrages are undeniably an escalation by the regime and must be met with diplomatic resistance at the highest levels. Other nations have already moved against Hun Sen's regime, with the United States recently denying visas to Cambodian officials and 'individuals involved in undermining democracy in Cambodia' since December, in a move to push the regime to reinstate the CNRP, to release Mr Kem Sokha and to lift media restrictions in Cambodia. The European Parliament, meanwhile, adopted a resolution calling for a list of individuals responsible for the dissolution of the opposition and other serious human rights violations in Cambodia, with a view to imposing possible visa restrictions and asset freezes on them.

I call on this parliament to acknowledge that Australia has an important role to play in safeguarding and furthering Cambodia democracy. The current actions of the Hun Sen regime seriously threaten that process. Australia must make it clear that we support the Cambodian people and their right to have their voices heard. In the coming weeks Mr Sam Rainsy will be speaking at the Press Club, and I urge members of this parliament to carefully consider his words. Mr Rainsy and other Cambodian leaders of the CNRP have recently founded a Cambodia National Rescue Movement to advocate for Mr Kem Sokha, other political prisoners, including Australian film maker James Ricketson, and to agitate for the reinstatement of the CNRP to ensure that the Cambodian people have a genuine choice at the elections in June. The restoration of Cambodia's fledgling democracy is vital to the ongoing freedom, safety and growth of Cambodia and its people. Australia must take a strong position and stand by our convictions put forward in the 1991 peace accords. I commend this motion to the parliament.