Bipartisan group of U.S. Senators denounce Cambodian government

By Ray Downs  |  Jan. 28, 2018 at 11:33 PM
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Jan. 28 (UPI) -- A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators on Friday called on U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, to isolate the Cambodian government to ensure legitimate democratic elections.

Leading the group was Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In a letter to Haley, the group says the Cambodian government has misused its justice system to attack political opponents, including the dissolution of an opposition political party, and to prosecute human rights activists.

"The Cambodian government has carried out a widespread attack on Cambodia's opposition, civil society, and media, demonstrating an unprecedented attack on Cambodia's fragile and burgeoning democracy," the Senators wrote. "For these reasons, we call on you to strongly appeal to our partners and allies at the U.N. Human Rights Council to address these issues at the upcoming U.N. Human Rights Council session, including a dialogue with the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the U.N. special rapporteur for Cambodia, and representatives of civil society. At that Special Session, we would urge you to work with other governments to pass a strong resolution that puts the government on notice on the international stage."

Joining McCain and Cardin were Senators Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Cory Gardner, R-Colo., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

In a statement to the Phnom Penh Post, Cambodian government spokesperson Phay Siphan said the international community's response won't have an effect on Cambodian elections.

"There's no such law that gives a foreign nation [the right] to consider the government not legitimate," he said.

Relations between the United States and Cambodia have been chilly, with U.S. officials more often criticizing their Cambodian counterparts.

In November, U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, William Heidt, said he doubted the Cambodian government wanted a relationship with the United States.

"Since I came, let's be honest, the Khmer government has taken a lot of steps against the US," Heidt said at the time, referring to the Cambodian government's suspension of joint-military exercises.

After the United States threatened to cut foreign aid to the country, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said he would welcome such a move.

"Hun Sen confirmed that cutting U.S. aid won't kill the government but will only kill a group of people who serve American policies," Fresh News, a pro-government news site, reported in November.

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