Cambodian statement - 7/12/17

December 07, 2017

Mr BUTLER (Port Adelaide) (10:12):  I again rise to express my very deep concern at the abuse of civil and political rights in Cambodia by the Hun Sen regime. Since the 2013 election, there has been a concerted campaign by the regime to crush civil society and press freedom and to neutralise its political opposition, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, the CNRP. The closure of The Cambodia Daily and Radio Free Asia is just one example of the oppression of a free press. The assassination of Mr Kem Ley is an example of the campaign against peaceful, civil opposition.

At a political level, the regime's behaviour has become very serious. After forcing the longstanding opposition leader, Mr Sam Rainsy, to step down earlier this year, his replacement, Mr Kem Sokha, was arrested on trumped-up treason charges in September, based on an entirely unremarkable speech that he gave here in Australia several years ago. And last month the regime smashed any pretence that there could be free and fair elections by dissolving the CNRP and banning its parliamentarians and officials from political activity for five years. Hun Sen has offered those MPs a reprieve if they cross over to his party, the CPP. All of this takes place against a backdrop of increasingly violent intimidation by the regime. This week the ABC here in Australia reported that Cambodia's military chief has promised to 'smash the teeth of anyone not supporting the Hun Sen regime'. Hun Sen himself is reported as saying, during the mid-year local elections, that killing 200 people would be worth the price in order to stay in power.

The large Cambodian-Australian community here in Australia is obviously distressed by this turn of events. A large number of Cambodian Australians came to parliament this week to support the CNRP's deputy leader, Mrs Mu Sochua, in her campaign to rally support around the world for free and fair elections. The EU and the US, among others, are considering concrete action to pressure Hun Sen to reverse course, and I have written to Australia's foreign minister, Ms Julie Bishop, asking her what concrete actions our country is considering to support democracy in Cambodia.

A strong response from our government is especially important given the images in October of Australia's ambassador to Cambodia sharing champagne with Mr Hun Sen's foreign minister to celebrate the upgrading of our relations. But it's also important given the proud history of the role Australia played, led by Gareth Evans, in helping to forge the Paris peace accords 26 years ago. We must remember that those accords also promised civil and political freedoms for the Cambodian people through free and fair elections. The first step must be the immediate release of Mr Kem Sokhar. It's time Australia took action to support democracy in Cambodia. (Time expired)