Gareth Evans, the former Australian foreign minister who played a key role in the political settlement that ended Cambodia’s civil war, has called for sanctions against the CPP government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, which he says has been “getting away with murder.”
Mr. Evans was appointed Australian foreign minister in September 1988, only two months after the first meeting between Mr. Hun Sen’s Soviet-backed regime and the U.S.-backed resistance led by Prince Norodom Sihanouk, and he was the first international figure to formally propose reunification of the country under the auspices of the U.N., which would come to pass in 1993.
Writing an opinion column on Wednesday for Project Syndicate, which claims syndication in more than 400 newspapers, Mr. Evans, who has maintained a close friendship with Mr. Hun Sen’s government since the peace process of the 1980s and early 1990s, said he has lost hope that the ruling party is interested in protecting human rights or liberal democracy in the country.
“Cambodia’s government has been getting away with murder,” Mr. Evans writes, before describing the onslaught by military police who shot dead five protesting garment workers and imprisoned more than 20 last month.
Mr. Evans—who was in 1994 described as “the father of Cambodia” by Chheang Vun, a senior lawmaker from the ruling CPP—states that the recent killings form part of a “pattern” of strategic violence used by the government—with international impunity—when its power is threatened.
He mentions summary killings of political opponents of the CPP and complete seizure of the mechanics of government in 1997 when Mr. Hun Sen’s forces defeated forces loyal to Prince Norodom Ranariddh, which he says was met with an inadequate response from “Cambodia-fatigue[d]” governments around the world, but should serve as a lesson for today.
“At the time, I wanted to believe that these reverses would be temporary, and there were too many like me,” Mr. Evans writes.
“Since then, while preserving a democratic facade, Hun Sen has ruled, for all practical purposes, as an autocrat, showing scant regard for rights of free expression and association—and resorting to violent repression whenever he has deemed it necessary to preserve his and his party’s position.”
“For far too long, Hun Sen and his colleagues have been getting away with violence, human-rights abuses, corruption, and media and electoral manipulation without serious internal or external challenge.”
In his article, Mr. Evans also describes as “plausible” an accusation that more than 20 of Mr. Hun Sen’s closest associates have “each amassed more than $1 billion through misappropriation of state assets.”
“I know Hun Sen and worked well with him in the past. I have resisted strong public criticism until now, because I thought there was hope for both him and his government,” Mr. Evans writes.
“But their behavior has now moved beyond the civilized pale. It is time for Cambodia’s political leaders to be named, shamed, investigated, and sanctioned by the international community,” he concludes.
Mr. Hun Sen and Mr. Evans last met publicly in September 2010, when the pair appeared with Prince Norodom Sirivudh and Australian-born Cambodia historian Milton Osborne on a panel at a University of Melbourne retrospective in Phnom Penh. At the event, the pair praised each other for helping to promote peace and stability in Cambodia.
“I would like to extend a particularly heartfelt welcome back to Cambodia to the honorable professor Gareth Evans…for his personal role and great contribution to Cambodia’s national reconciliation and reconstruction,” Mr. Hun Sen said at the conference.
In response to the prime minister’s praise, Mr. Evans said that while there had been “serious bumps along the way” in Cambodian democracy since 1993, the country had prospered under the leadership of Mr. Hun Sen.
“It is important—and accurate—to see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty,” he said at the time, praising the vibrancy of Phnom Penh and economic growth in the country since 1993.
“[It] is a great credit to Prime Minister Hun Sen and his team…who obviously have an intense commitment to the future of Cambodia, and the majority of Cambodians strongly behind them,” he continued.
Mr. Evans also calls in his article for Julie Bishop, the current Australian foreign minister who visited Phnom Penh last week, to drop “quiet diplomacy” and pick up a “loud megaphone” in her dealings with Cambodia.
Contacted for further comment Thursday, Mr. Evans said he hoped his criticism would give the government pause.
“It may be that my voice this time around will make the government realize it fundamentally has to change its behavior or there will be nothing left of Cambodia’s reputation and credibility,” he said.
Mr. Vun, the CPP lawmaker who described Mr. Evans as “the father of Cambodia” and who also served as*********** Cambodia’s ambassador to Australia, on Thursday said little about Mr. Evans’ scathing comments directed at his party and the government.
“Gareth’s words do not give me a headache,” Mr. Vun said.
Mr. Evans, who served as Australian foreign minister between September 1988 and March 1996 and later became president of the respected International Crisis Group think tank, proposed the idea of a U.N.-administered reunification of Cambodia to the Australian Senate in November 1989.
The idea was almost immediately met with positive, if wary, reactions from the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry and Cambodia’s resistance forces on the Thai border, who in July 1988 had held their first meeting on possible peace in Cambodia after almost 10 years of war.
(Additional reporting by Mech Dara)
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