Japanese football star Keisuke Honda has been rebuked by Human Rights Watch (HRW) for taking on the role of General Manager of the Cambodian national team.
The International human rights watchdog said in a Tuesday piece titled ‘Japan: Football Star Working for Rights Abuser’ that “Keisuke Honda’s agreement to coach Cambodia’s national soccer team links him to a senior Cambodian official implicated in alleged war crimes.
HRW said it had sent a letter to Honda, dated December 3, 2018, which was on Tuesday republished by Brad Adams, HRW Executive Regional Director of Asia.
The organisation expressed astonishment that a player with the visibility of Honda was happy to work alongside General Sokha. The general is serving a fourth term as President of Cambodian football’s organising body and was first elected in 2006.
Football observers from around the world reacted with a mixture of astonishment and bemusement after Honda was unveiled as GM in August. He was handed a two-year unpaid contract and also serves as cultural ambassador, highlighting the natural beauty of the kingdom.
Upon his appointment General Sokha stated; “Keisuke Honda leading the Cambodian national team is very important for two reasons. One is to create a clear Cambodian national style of football,” said Mr Sokha. “The second point is to help spread Cambodia’s culture to the world. I would like to thank Mr. Honda, he volunteers to contribute to the Cambodian Football Federation, and especially to our national team. We are aware that Honda is busy but he still tries to help Cambodia.”
National Military Police commander General Sokha is also the Commander of the Royal Khmer Gendarmerie (GRK).
For HRW, Honda’s close cooperation with Mr. Sokha is worrying.
“That Sao Sokha is named as the general of the blood-stained-in uniform because of involvement in countless killings. Deadly and war crimes in Cambodia,” reads the statement.
“Foreign governments have long recognized Sao Sokha’s responsibility for human rights violations. As an official from France, which helped establish the GRK, told us, Sao Sokha is “involved in criminal activities and violence.”
Contacted by telephone yesterday, an Football Federation of Cambodia (FFC) spokesman said the Federation was concerned only with football. “As far as we know Mr. Honda is helping only with football. His appointment is purely football and politics does not come into it.” FFC Vice President Khiev Sameth could not be reached for comment.
Honda’s first visit to the kingdom took place in 2015 during his nation’s 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying group stage qualifiers which pitted the Angkor Warriors against Honda’s Samurai Blue at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium. He duly netted a goal as Japan ran out 2-0 victors.
He returned in June 2016 as part of the inauguration of his eponymous Honda Soltilo Soccer School and a further three-day trip a year later. He has played a role in football development in Cambodia through his involvement in Cambodian first division side Soltilo Angkor – formerly known as Siem Reap Angkor FC.
On the pitch, a Honda-powered Cambodia bowed out at the group stage of this years’ AFF Suzuki Cup following galling defeats to Malaysia, Myanmar, and Vietnam. Post-defeat, Honda said he remained hopeful that his presence in the role of general manager would help the kingdom improve its football.