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Joint Open Letter at 32nd ASEAN Summit: Cambodia’s Political Instability

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APRIL 25, 2018


Minister for Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Tanglin, Singapore
Republic of Singapore

Re: Cambodia’s Political Instability

Dear Foreign Minister;

We, the undersigned international and regional organizations, write to you on the occasion of the 32nd ASEAN Summit to urge your immediate attention to the severe deterioration in the state of human rights and democracy in Cambodia in recent months. Recent​ ​actions​ ​by​ ​Cambodia’s​ ​government​ ​to​ ​dissolve​ ​the​ ​opposition​ ​Cambodia​ ​National​ ​Rescue Party​ ​(CNRP),​ ​effectively​ ​transformed​ ​the​ ​country​ ​into​ ​a​ ​one-party​ ​state.​ ​The​ ​arrest​ ​of​ ​Kem Sokha,​ ​the​ ​leader​ ​of​ ​the​ ​CNRP​ ​on​ ​spurious​ ​charges,​ ​the​ ​banning​ ​of​ ​over​ ​100​ ​opposition​ ​leaders from​ ​political​ ​activities,​ ​the​ arrests​ ​of​ political and human rights activists, ​restraints on freedom of expression and assembly, and​ ​the​ ​crackdown​ ​on​ ​independent​ ​news media​ ​and​ ​civil​ ​society​ ​have​ ​isolated​ ​the​ ​country​ ​and​ ​put​ ​its​ ​further​ ​democratic​ ​development​ ​in serious​ ​doubt.​ ​In​ ​addition,​ ​the​ ​ruling​ ​Cambodia​ ​People’s​ ​Party​ ​(CPP)​ ​has​ ​systematically​ ​replaced local​ ​and​ ​national​ ​lawmakers​ ​affiliated​ ​with​ ​the​ ​opposition​ ​with​ ​those​ ​loyal​ ​to​ ​the​ ​ruling​ ​CPP.

These​ ​and​ ​previous​ ​actions​ ​by​ ​the​ ​Cambodian​ ​government​ are in disharmony with ASEAN’s core principal to “promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law,” and should​ ​be​ ​seen​ ​as​ ​nothing​ ​less​ ​than​ ​a clear​ ​violation​ ​of​ ​the​ ​spirit​ ​and​ ​letter​ ​of​ ​the​ ​1991​ ​Paris​ ​Peace​ ​Agreement,​ ​which​ ​ended​ ​the nation’s​ ​12​ ​year​ ​civil​ ​war.​ ​That​ ​agreement​ ​–​ ​signed​ ​by​ ​19​ ​governments,​ including nine current ASEAN member states, ​​required​ ​Cambodia​ ​to​ ​respect​ ​human​ ​rights​ ​as​ ​enshrined​ ​in​ ​principal international​ ​human​ ​rights​ ​instruments,​ ​and​ ​called​ ​for​ ​Cambodia​ ​to​ ​follow​ ​“a​ ​system​ ​of​ ​liberal democracy​ ​on​ ​the​ ​basis​ ​of​ ​pluralism.”​ ​The​ ​accords​ ​also​ ​mandated​ ​“periodic​ ​and​ ​genuine elections…with​ ​a​ ​requirement​ ​that​ ​electoral​ ​procedures​ ​provide​ ​a​ ​full​ ​and​ ​fair​ ​opportunity​ ​to organize​ ​and​ ​participate​ ​in​ ​the​ ​electoral​ ​process.”​ ​

We appeal therefore, in particular to the Indonesian Government, to request for the reconvening of such a conference or one similar in nature that will outline concrete collective actions to reverse course in Cambodia, ahead of the elections in July.

The national election scheduled for July 29, 2018 has no chance of legitimacy if present circumstances persist, and far-reaching remedial steps would be required for this election to be deemed genuine, participatory and inclusive. The rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, and political participation, among others, are being systematically violated through amendments to the Law on Political Parties and the Criminal Code, in contravention of the Cambodian constitution and Cambodia’s international human rights obligations, including under the ASEAN Charter and Human Rights Declaration, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Paris Agreements.

In light of the alarming and rapidly deteriorating situation for human rights, the rule of law and democracy in Cambodia, we urge you to fulfill your obligations as laid out in the 1967 Bangkok Declaration to “promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law in the relationship among countries of the region,” by working through all diplomatic channels, both formal and informal, to call on Cambodia to reverse its course. It​ ​is​ ​not​ ​too​ ​late​ ​for​ ​the​ ​Cambodian​ ​government​ ​to​ ​restore a fair environment for the July 29,  2018 national election, which will allow ​the​ ​Cambodian​ ​people​ ​​to​ ​choose​ ​their​ ​leaders​ ​in​ ​a​ ​credible electoral​ ​process.​ ​No​ ​Cambodian​ ​government​ ​elected​ ​under​ ​the​ ​current​ ​circumstances​ ​would have​ ​any​ ​claim​ ​to​ ​legitimacy.

In​ ​order​ ​to​ ​establish​ ​the​ ​conditions​ ​in​ ​which​ ​credible​ ​elections​ ​could​ ​be​ ​held,​ ​measures​ ​the Cambodian​ ​Government​ ​must​ ​implement​ ​include:​ ​reinstating​ ​the​ ​CNRP​ ​as​ ​a​ ​legal​ ​entity; immediately​ ​releasing​ ​Kem​ ​Sokha​ ​and​ ​permitting​ ​Sam​ ​Rainsy​ ​and​ ​other​ ​CNRP​ ​leaders​ ​to​ ​return from​ ​exile;​ ​freeing​ ​all​ ​political​ ​prisoners,​ ​including​ ​civil​ ​society​ ​leaders​ ​and​ ​political​ ​activists; allowing​ ​journalists​ ​and​ ​media​ ​outlets​ ​to​ ​operate​ ​free​ ​of​ ​violence​ ​and​ ​intimidation,​ ​including VOA,​ ​RFA​ ​and​ ​The​ ​Cambodia​ ​Daily; restoring fundamental liberties including the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Once these conditions are met, ​​domestic​ ​and​ ​international​ ​election​ ​observer groups​ should be granted ​free​ ​access​ ​to​ ​monitor​ ​all​ ​aspects​ ​of​ ​the​ ​electoral​ ​process, and a new​ ​election commission​ should be formed ​that​ ​includes​ ​members​ ​of​ ​the​ ​opposition.

Cambodia’s​ ​backsliding ​also threatens​ ​to​ ​overturn​ ​the​ ​efforts​ ​of​ ​the​ ​international​ ​community,​ ​which​ ​has​ ​spent​ ​billions​ ​of dollars​ ​on​ ​Cambodia’s​ ​democratic​ ​development​, advancing ASEAN goals of regional stability, prosperity, and cohesiveness ​–​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​the​ ​tireless​ ​work​ ​of​ ​countless Cambodian​ ​citizens​ ​–​ ​over​ ​the​ ​past​ ​26​ ​years.

ASEAN​ ​can​ ​play​ ​an important​ ​role​ ​in​ ​mediation with the Cambodian government until conditions in the country show marked improvement,​ ​and​ ​there​ ​is precedent​ ​for​ ​its​ ​engagement.​ ​ASEAN​ ​issued​ ​a​ ​strong​ ​statement​ ​following​ ​the​ ​1997​ ​coup, and​ ​postponed​ ​Cambodia’s​ ​membership​ ​application​ ​which​ ​was​ ​pending​ ​when​ ​that​ ​coup occurred.​ ​The​ ​international community​ ​and​ ​the​ ​Cambodian​ ​people​ ​have​ ​invested​ ​a​ ​great​ ​deal​ ​in​ ​efforts​ ​to​ ​build​ ​a​ ​stable, democratic​ ​and​ ​prosperous​ ​Cambodia​ ​since​ ​1991, and we urge the ASEAN community to stand by the Cambodian people to exercise their legitimate civil and political rights as important elections approach.  ​

Very​ ​few​ ​countries​ ​suffered​ ​more​ ​violence​ ​in the​ ​20th​ ​century​ ​than​ ​Cambodia,​ ​and​ ​its​ ​people​ ​deserve​ ​a fair and just future, and live in “peace, stability, and prosperity” as envisioned by the ASEAN Charter.


Yours sincerely,

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR)

Asia Democracy Network (ADN)

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia)

Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL)

Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD)

Human Rights Watch (HRW)

National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI)



Erywan Yusof, Second Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Brunei Darussalam

Prak Sokhonn, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Cambodia

Retno Marsudi, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Indonesia

Saleumxay Kommasith, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Laos

Dato’ Sri Anifah Aman, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Malaysia

Alan Peter Cayetano, Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Philippines

Don Pramudwinai, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Thailand

Phạm Bình Minh, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Vietnam


For a PDF version of this letter, please click here.