Kerry warns Cambodia on human rights, hails economic growth

US Secretary of State hails Cambodia’s economic development but also voices concerns about country’s human rights record during his one day visit

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

US Secretary of State John Kerry is welcomed by Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh, Cambodia January 26, 2016

Cambodia’s efforts to improve democracy and human rights standards is critical to the country’s future relations with the United States, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday, during his one day visit to Phnom Penh.

After a series of meetings with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong and several opposition leaders, Kerry told reporters that the US would like to see the country "as a thriving multiparty democracy," as the local and parliamentary elections approach next year and in 2018.

"We care deeply about respect for human rights, universal freedoms, and good governance," Kerry said.

"Progress in each of these areas is really critical to being able to fulfil the potential of our bilateral relations but also the full potential of the aspirations of the Cambodian people."

Kerry said  "Democratic governments have a responsibility to ensure that all elected representatives are free to perform their responsibilities without fear of attack or arrest," pointing to the situation of opposition leader Sam Rainsy who is currently in self-exile after a slew of criminal charges were brought against him and 17 lawmakers from his party, which they say are politically-motivated.

"That is a fundamental responsibility of a democratic government. So as Cambodians prepare for elections next year and in 2018, it is important to allow vigorous but peaceful debate."

The case against Rainsy, along with other attacks on the opposition, have brought an end to a political truce Hun Sen reached with the opposition in 2014 to end a parliamentary boycott. The opposition had accused Hun Sen's party of stealing the 2013 general election.

US Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Cambodia's Foreign Minister Hor Namhong at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Phnom Penh, Cambodia January 26, 2016 (Reuters)

Kerry praised Cambodia’s “remarkable” economic strides and modernisation in addition to the trade ties between the two countries.

"You have moved from extreme poverty, from a very small economy, to an economy that is growing very significantly and lifted many of your people out of poverty," he told Hor Nam Hong.

"I think it's quite remarkable that the United States is, in fact, Cambodia's largest export market even though we have half the world between our countries," Kerry said.

"And we will continue to explore ways to deepen our trade and investment relationship, including by helping to tackle corruption and exploring ways to strengthen Cambodia's legal institutions."

The US is one of Cambodia's main trade partners as it exports large amounts of textiles and shoes to the American market.

Kerry’s positive remarks came as the Obama administration is seeking to strengthen its partnership with the members of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which are scheduled to attend a summit in California on February 15.

TRTWorld and agencies