The EU would commit a serious mistake if it decides to remove EBA from Cambodia. It should instead continue to help the Kingdom to develop its economy and gradually build democratic governance, writes Thomas Fowler.
The EU is considering revoking Cambodia’s Everything But Arms (EBA) status. A decision will take place soon, probably in early February and it must be seen as a sanction. The will of the EU authorities is to punish Cambodia because it took the decision to dissolve the CNRP following public revelations made by its leader of his involvement in a project to overthrow the government with methods comparable to “those used in the former Yugoslavia and Serbia”, and with US support.
The EU authorities and its 28-member states had never wanted to take into account the reasons put forward by the Cambodian government. Why? Obviously the EU would be abandoning its protégé who, as it is well-known, receives financial aid from a large European political family. The EU has never condemned populist practices and calls for racial hatred by its protégés. Also if the EU had lent its ears to the Cambodian government, it would be going against its key ally – the US. We all know that the US will stop at nothing to overthrow governments that it deems are not toeing their line.
The European Commission has chosen to punish Cambodia. The suspension of EBA, desired by Sam Rainsy, the protégé of the EU, whose impact will affect 800,000 female workers and their families, is nothing but a penalty. African countries with important strategic resources, which also benefit from EBA, do not suffer any sanctions while massacres are perpetrated and major human rights violations are a common practice. The suspension of EBA is therefore a sanction against Cambodia, already targeted by the Europeans as it had been seen in the past when they supported the pro-American coup d’état of 1970 and the embargo from 1979 to 1991.
Sanctions are an instrument of international politics that go against diplomacy and peaceful coexistence among peoples. It is an act of hostility. Sanctions belong to the old arsenal of the might of the strongest. They signify nothing more than the willingness of one state – or group of states – to impose its will on another country.
Unilateral sanctions are contrary to international law that enshrines both the sovereignty of states and equality between them (Article 2 of the United Nations Charter). The main effect of sanctions is to punish populations without necessarily modifying the political choices they denounce. The real effect of economic sanctions concerns most of the social rights enshrined in articles 22 to 27 of the 70-year-old Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is essentially the right to food, health, education, and work which are hard hit by economic sanctions. These were the same rights curtailed by the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime when they took over Cambodia in 1975.
At the July 2018 election, the incumbent Cambodian government received the popular support of 77 percent of the electorate, while voter turnout was at a staggering 83 percent. Peace and stability prevails in the country and Cambodia is moving on the path to modernity and will soon become a middle-income country.
Cambodia does not want to be shackled to its past legacy. As far as the democratic process is concerned, the government wants to turn the page of the crisis provoked by the CNRP and, in accordance with Cambodian legislation, allow all truly democratic parties to express themselves. Important decisions have been undertaken in this direction with the hope that democracy will prevail – where political debate is free of slander, racial prejudice and hatred, and deliberate provocations.
But there are people in Brussels who do not know the virtues of win-win agreements, where there all are winners and no losers. For them, there is only one winner and the rest are losers. They practice double standards when publicly they promote partnership with the government, but behind the government’s back they align themselves with anti-government forces planning to topple an elected administration.
The EU will commit a serious mistake if it decides to remove EBA from Cambodia. The EU should instead continue to help Cambodia to develop its economy and gradually build democratic governance. Cambodia can be the bridge and beacon of democracy in the Mekong region as no country in the GMS is currently implementing a democratic system better than Cambodia.
Thomas Fowler is a Cambodia watcher based in Phnom Penh.