HomeNews U.S. Congress Hearing on Cambodia's Human Rights
U.S. Congress Hearing on Cambodia's Human Rights
On Thursday, September 10, the Tom Lantos Congressional Caucus on Human Rights held a hearing on the current situation in Cambodia with testimony by Ms. Mu Sochua, opposition member of Parliament; Dr. Pung Chiv Kek, President of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO); Mr. Moeum Tola, Head of Community Legal Education Center Labor Program, and Dr. Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch. There was standing room only in the hearing room.
Caucus members in attendance were Caucus Chairman Congressman James McGovern (D-MA), Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (D-Lowell, MA) and Cogressman Jim Moran (D-VA), Congressmen Joseph Cao (R-LA), Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA).
Parliamentarian Mu Sochua’s opening statement was that Cambodian democracy is "experiencing an alarming free fall." She went on to testify about the threat to her safety and that of other opposition party members and free speech from Prime Minister Hun Sen and his communist Cambodian People's Party (CPP), and that regimes’ use of stripping the opposition party member’s immunity as a means of silencing criticism of the government’s human rights abuses. On the same day, Hun Sen had the audacity to threaten Mu Sochua and other opposition party members by stating "ghosts" out for the Pchum Ben festival would come to threaten their lives. “The ghost are around them and will take them along," Hun Sen’s statements came during his speech during the inauguration of a pagoda in the Kirivong district of Takeo province.
Dr. Pung Chiv Kek’s testimony focused mainly on the governments forced evictions of thousands of Cambodians from their homes and farms and leaving them without shelter or a means to make a living; noting that more than 250,000 people have been victims of land-grabbing since 2003 in the 13 provinces in which LICADHO operates. Caucus members were unaware that Prime Minister Hun Sen had pulled out of a World Bank project aimed at settling land disputes, raising further concern about forced evictions in impoverished Cambodia.
Moeun Tola's testimony focused on labor conditions that have sharply deteriorated in the past few years and the garment industry is run like sweat shops and near slave condition for workers, who are largely women. He said wages are "insufficient, especially in light of rising costs of food, health problems related to work and other necessities," for workers to support themselves or their families. Since the US purchases around 80% of Cambodia’s textile production, he called for the US to institute duty-free status for Cambodian textiles and to urge the Cambodian government to fully implement the 1997 Labor Law.He also expressed concern for the security of union organizers in Cambodia, citing the murders of officials from the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia including Chea Vichea, Ros Sovannareth and Hy Vuthy and the fact that none of those responsible for their deaths have been brought to trial.
Dr. Sophie Richardson expounded upon the human rights abuses by the regime in Cambodia , and the fact that several high ranking Khmer Rouge personnel were in Cambodia ’s army as well in Hun Sen’s administration. This came as a surprise to Caucus members who then posed the question why should the US government be giving military aid to the Cambodian army that has Khmer Rouge members in it?
Ms. Mu Sochua, Dr. Pung Chiv Kek, Mr. Moeum Tola, and Dr. Sophie Richardson made a number of recommendations that they asked Caucus members to consider. Congressman McGovern stated "My message is to stress that the United States wants a good relationship with Cambodia." "We want a strong alliance with Cambodia, but human rights is an important issue, and there are some serious concerns about the human rights situation in Cambodia. And we will urge the Cambodian government to try to address them." Congressman Moran said he initiated the hearing because the United States has a responsibility towards the Cambodian people. "Cambodia has made tremendous progress, but now it's going back. It's moving towards Burma instead of towards Indonesia. That's unacceptable." Congressman Wolf, the Republican co-chair of the Caucus, said he would write a letter to the US Embassy in Cambodia asking officials to keep a watchful eye on the returning witnesses, especially since Ms. Mu Sochua has duel US and Cambodian citizenship.
The Cambodian Embassy in Washington released a statement defending its government's record on human rights saying "Like any democratic country in the world, Cambodia cannot [allow] the proliferation of voluntary public defamation and disinformation intended to create social disorder." Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the hearing was "unfair" because no representatives of the Cambodian government were invited.
That evening, CAHRAD (Cambodian American Human Rights and Democracy)hosted a Community Forum on Cambodia and Human Rights and dinner with Ms. Mu Sochua, Dr. Pung Chiv Kek, and Mr. Moeum Tola as guest speakers. There was a lively question and answer session that went well on into the late evening with Cambodians from several areas including DC metropolitan, Pennsylvania (very well represented)
Cambodian Americans for Human Rights and Democracy (CAHRAD) "Democracy, Freedom and Justice for All" Email: