Hun Sen must take heed

Hun Sen must take heed

In his quest for absolute control and to prolong his stay in power, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has turned the country into a de facto one-party state and prepared his eldest son for a dynastic succession. This quest has been pursued at the cost of his people's political and civil rights.

And in light of the European Union's (EU) announcement of the partial suspension of Cambodia's duty- and quota-free access to its markets because of the Cambodian regime's blatant violation of human rights, Hun Sen should be warned that his arrogance and ego may not only jeopardise the country's economy, but also his people's job security.

When the EU started reviewing its Everything But Arms (EBA) programme in February last year, Hun Sen was given a year to improve his government's poor human rights record. Disappointingly, Hun Sen and his administration did practically nothing to restore Cambodians' political and civil rights.

The EU's EBA review took place following widespread crackdowns on the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), journalists, activists and workers in recent years.

Recognising the CNRP's growing popularity, the Hun Sen government launched a series of legal attacks against the opposition party.

In September 2017, CNRP leader Kem Sokha was arrested and slapped with the senseless and absurd charge of treason. Two months later, the Supreme Court disbanded the CNRP on the flimsy grounds that the party was attempting to overthrow the government. The court also banned 118 of its senior members from politics for five years.

After that, a number of critical media outlets were forced to shut down and scores of journalists and activists were arrested and charged. The country's Trade Union Law, amended just last year, also infringes on the rights of workers to form or join trade unions.

Having presided over these human rights abuses, Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party managed to secure all the MP seats in the July 2018 elections.

The EU made Cambodia a preferential trading partner in 2001, and since then the bloc has become the kingdom's largest trading partner. And as its largest trading partner, the EU is in a position to pressure the Hun Sen regime. In 2018, about 45% of Cambodia's exports (worth 5.4 billion euros) went to the EU.

If the EBA suspension isn't vetoed by the EU member-states or the European Parliament, then Cambodia will lose its privileges on Aug 12. It will lose reduced tariffs on about one-fifth of its exports -- mainly clothing, textiles and sugar.

With the garment industry employing about one million workers and accounting for 75% of Cambodia's exports to the bloc, the EBA suspension will hit workers hard.

According to a report last year by Al Jazeera, major global fashion brands hinted that they were planning to downsize or pull out of their production bases in Cambodia if the EU goes ahead with the decision. This, according to the European Union Chamber of Commerce, would affect at least 90,000 jobs.

Worse still, foreign investors would turn away from the country and seek to invest in its neighbours, such as Vietnam or Indonesia.

The EU's decision -- which could still be repealed before it takes effect -- is the right move. The bloc must pressure the Cambodian government to reverse its course, come to its senses and realise that its blatant and ruthless human rights abuses will no longer be tolerated by its biggest trade partner.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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