In response to calls from the European Union and the United States for Cambodia to respect democracy and human rights, Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday said the Kingdom has its own laws, noting that “you eat bread and I eat rice”.
The EU in February launched its six month-long period of intensive monitoring and engagement period that could lead to the temporary suspension of Cambodia’s preferential access to the market under the Everything-but-arms trade scheme.
US lawmakers have also made a move to introduce the Cambodian Trade Act 2019 in order to request the administration of President Donald Trump to review the Kingdom’s Generalised System of Preferences status.
The statement came a week after an EU fact-finding team ended their two day visit to the Kingdom to discuss the EBA.
The EU and the US have been demanding that the government “restore democracy and the rule of law, and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms”, referring to the dissolution of the CNRP and crack downs on press freedom and civil society.
Speaking during the 2019 Cambodia Outlook Conference in Phnom Penh yesterday, Mr Hun Sen said Cambodia has its own laws in ensuring democracy and human rights.
“Your concern is not in line with us, neither does it require to be mentioned in Cambodian laws,” he said. “Cambodia has its own laws different from other countries. You recognise this for other countries, why don’t you recognise this for Cambodia?”
He questioned whether the world has ever seen another genocidal regime like Pol Pot and urged critics to cease applying double standards.
“You recognise the system of other countries, but why don’t you recognise the system in Cambodia as well,” Mr Hun Sen said. “There are too many standards in the world, but they must respect justice and the principles of our country.”
The EU team that recently visited the Kingdom consisted of members of the European Commission and the European External Action Service. In a statement issued last week, the delegation said the EU is still willing to continue political dialogue and engagement with the government.
“The EC and the EEAS hope to see sustained and concrete progress in all areas of concern under the EBA engagement and look to Cambodia to urgently take the actions needed in order to keep benefiting from the EBA preferential tariffs,” the statement said.
To that, Mr Hun Sen said “if they forced one country to apply their standards, would they be able to follow? You eat bread, I eat rice. It’s not the same. We hope we can understand each other.”
Kin Phea, director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said Mr Hun Sen wanted to send a message.
“We have different political forms. Democracy is different in every country,” Mr Phea said. “They have their own history, mentalities and political context.”
He noted that the EU and the US should understand that democracy and human rights in their country cannot be implemented in Cambodia.
“The word ‘democracy’ means power in the hands of the people – I see that the government has provided rights to the Cambodian people in order for them to decide their own fate, especially when it comes to participation in elections” Mr Phea said. “They cannot bring a healthy apple tree that was grown in Paris to be planted in Cambodia.”