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Rainsy Asks EU to Cut Imports

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Opposition leader Sam Rainsy answers questions during an interview with Reuters at a hotel in metro Manila, the Philippines, on June 29. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has asked the European Union (EU) to decrease imports of clothing from Cambodia in an effort to put economic pressure on the government into respecting human rights and freedom of speech, saying he believed the act would not affect workers.   
 
Video footage of an EU parliamentary meeting on July 13, which was posted to Facebook on Saturday evening, showed Mr. Rainsy, who was speaking in French, say the garment industry’s relationship to Europe was crucial to Cambodia, as more than half of Cambodia’s exports were sent to EU member states.
 
He added that investors and big corporations were profiting off the back of workers only to use the money they made to bribe the government for better export deals.  
 
Mr. Rainsy, president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), attempted to head off criticism of the idea, saying he did not think an EU slowdown in garment imports from Cambodia would affect average citizens.
 
The businesspeople bribing the government to get their products in and out of Cambodia would be hit the hardest, he said.
 
“So if the EU stops allowing Cambodian clothing exports into their market, it will not be easy when they [the Cambodian government] want to open it back up. It must come back with terms and conditions. If you [the EU] do so, the government may start to reconsider things,” he said.  
 
Spokesman for the Council of Ministers Phay Siphan shot down the idea immediately, saying the EU would never consider something like what Mr. Rainsy was suggesting because it would affect people in their regional bloc as well as Cambodia.
 
“He [Rainsy] is trying to ruin workers’ rice pots. Garment workers get salaries from work and the businessman or the investors would just move out of Cambodia to run business in other countries,” he said.
 
Chan Sophal, president of the Center for Policy Studies, said the country’s garment and textile sectors would be affected by such a move because markets would move on to other countries and Cambodia needs the European market to sell its goods.
 
“If you decrease the number of purchase orders, the number of garment factories will go down, and if garment factories cannot find other markets to replace Europe, they will reduce production, and when reducing production, the size of the labor force will be reduced,” Mr. Sophal said.
 
“So workers in some garment factories will face unemployment. If you lose a market, it will impact production, so both garment workers and employers would both be affected together.”  
 
Unionists, however, were more appreciative of Mr. Rainsy’s efforts to come up with a viable solution to force the government into compliance with human rights norms and freedoms, but said politicians had to be more considerate and put forth ideas that would not cause the average person to lose money.
 
“I think the CNRP just wants to put pressure on the government to ensure respect for human rights and political deals. They only will if the EU checks and agrees to stop clothing exports from Cambodia,” said Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation (CLC) and the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union.
 

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“It would be a problem because the government would need to find jobs for unemployed workers. So I hope politicians can find a solution that does not affect the people.”
 
Mr. Rainsy has been in exile in France since November 16, when the Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued an arrest warrant and charged him with defamation based on a long-settled case. Since he left Cambodia, a number of senior government and ruling party officials have filed additional defamation complaints against him which many say are politically motivated.
 
Since his departure, he has traveled the world to drum up support for his cause and spread awareness of the political situation in Cambodia. In meetings with both US officials and EU member states, he has urged world powers to intervene and force Prime Minister Hun Sen into respecting basic human rights and releasing scores of political prisoners.
 
The political situation in Cambodia has slowly deteriorated over the past year, with Mr. Rainsy being forced into exile and his deputy, Kem Sokha, being forced into de facto house arrest stemming from an alleged sex scandal that has already led to the arrest of numerous human rights defenders, NGO workers, and civil society officials.
 
CNRP member Ky Vann Dara said during a press conference yesterday that party members on the National Assembly’s (NA) Permanent Committee had decided to return to parliamentary meetings at the NA today because of a planned open discussion on the Justice Ministry’s request to remove the parliamentary immunity of two opposition members.
 
The politicians are accused of being involved in prostitution in connection with Mr. Sokha’s alleged sex scandal.
 
“We [CNRP] have never claimed to boycott the plenary sessions. We will go into the Permanent Committee meeting to tell the CPP that what they did was wrong. The NA must not violate the constitution. To strip someone’s immunity, two-thirds of the votes are needed,” he said.  
 
CNRP officials To Vann Chan and Pin Rattana were charged with facilitating prostitution after helping Mr. Sokha plan a trip to Bangkok with his alleged mistress Khom Chandaraty. Many civil society organizations have said all of the charges related to the sex scandal are designed to disrupt the opposition ahead of the 2017 commune elections and 2018 national election.

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