US lawmakers have said they are optimistic that a new bill to impose sanctions on Cambodia will be passed by Congress given the strong support it received last year.
The Cambodia Democracy Act was reintroduced by Congressman Ted Yoho (R-FL) earlier this month and has received bi-partisan support. It was co-sponsored by Congressman Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY), chairman of the House’s Foreign Affairs Committee, and Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX).
The bill aims to apply travel and economic sanctions on individuals who have “undermined democracy” in Cambodia and violated human rights.
“Our policy is we want to trade with people on a fair basis,” Yoho told VOA Khmer in a phone interview. “If they want to be a democracy, they need to act like a democracy and that’s one of the reasons we do trade with them. But if they have poor human rights and have suppression of elections, they are not a true democracy and so the pressure will be put on them, and [Prime Minister] Hun Sen will have to decide what he wants to do.”
The bill, known as HR5754, was first introduced by Yoho last year after authorities launched a crackdown on the former opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, civil society groups, and independent media. It was unanimously passed by the House of Representatives just days before Cambodia held national elections in July, but died at the Senate.
“We had a lot of bi-partisan support last year and I think you’ll see the same amount this year, and we have a companion bill in the Senate,” said Yoho. “Again, this bill came close to passing the last Congress and that’s a good indicator that this Congress will.”
The Senate’s companion bi-partisan bill was introduced by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), urging the U.S. government to withdraw the Generalized System of Preferences from Cambodia.
“We think the next change we’ve always wanted it to be would be in terms of preferential trade privileges that Cambodia now has,” Lowenthal told VOA Khmer. “And we would like it to be tied to human rights violations, and the lack of free and fair elections, and democracy.”
Cambodia’s political situation has deteriorated in the past two years and the bill has provided a renewed hope for some Cambodian-American community activists who want democracy and respect for human rights in their home country.
“I am very excited because in 2018 the US was busy with their domestic issues and could not pass HR 5754 on time and it had to be reintroduced this Congress,” said Meas Chea, a spokesman for CNRP-USA. “It was passed by the House of Representatives once, therefore, I’m optimistic that the Congress can pass it this 2019 if there is no change in Cambodia.”
“I’m excited that the bill has been re-introduced by Congressman Ted Yoho for another round of votes by the Congress,” said Saory Pon, a spokesman for CNRP-America.
Saory Pon and Chea Meas urged the community to lobby their congressmen to sponsor the bill.
The EU has already launched a withdrawal process of Cambodia’s preferential treatment under the “Everything But Arms” trade scheme and had asked their member states to give the green light by Tuesday.
“The Cambodian government should listen to requests from the US and EU because they see that Cambodia has violated democracy and human rights,” said Yap Kimtung, president of Cambodian American for Human Rights and Democracy.
“Therefore, they will impose sanctions. If Hun Sen wants to help Cambodian people, he should correctly practice democracy, otherwise, he will bring misery to the Cambodian people.”
As a result of the crackdown the opposition leader, Kem Sokha, has been put under house arrest; 118 CNRP officials have been banned from politics for five years, and opposition officials have fled the country and lived in exile overseas.