President. The next item is the debate on six motions for resolutions on Cambodia: political repression(1).
Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg (PSE), author. – (PL) Mr President, Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world. It also suffers from the lack of an independent judiciary and widespread corruption. People trafficking, child prostitution, plus persecution and torture of political opponents with impunity are but a few of the features of everyday life in Cambodia.
Repression of this kind, together with the arrest in recent weeks of representatives of humanitarian institutions, trade unions and journalists accused of spreading so-called false information have rightly awakened the concern of the international community. The Cambodian Government routinely uses the justice system as a means of repressing political opposition. Cambodia is in permanent breach of international agreements on human rights, notably the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention. It metes out inhuman treatment to people attempting to flee from Vietnam and organises brutal deportations.
The international community must take decisive action to secure the freedom of all humanitarian organisation activists and to have the charges against them dropped. It must also press for an end to persecution and intimidation. The 1993 European Union-Cambodia Cooperation Agreement binds the Union to take specific steps to ensure full respect for all human rights in Cambodia, including economic, social and cultural rights.
Jules Maaten (ALDE), author. – (NL) Mr President, last month, a court in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, sentenced the opposition leader Sam Rainsy, in absentia, to a prison term of eighteen months for slandering the prime minister, Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh. Mr Sam was also fined the sum of 20 million riel, which amounts to some EUR 4 000, allegedly for blackening the good names of his political rivals.
At the beginning of this month, the Cambodian Government arrested two human rights activists: Kem Sokha, chairman of the ‘Cambodian Center for Human Rights’ and Yeng Virak, director of the ‘Community Legal Education Center’, who are being held in connection with the display of a banner marking the International Day of Human Rights on 10 December.
A meeting with the American diplomat Christopher Hill resulted in the prime minister agreeing after all to release Kem Sokha and Pa Nguon Teang on bail, which happened on 17 January, but the charges of defamation against them and a number of others who were freed were not dropped.
The sentence passed on Sam Rainsy and the arrest of the human rights activists are just a couple of examples of a whole series of slurs and accusations levelled at public figures in the last two years, which have seen the suspension of parliamentary immunity and the sentencing of Cheam Channy and, in his absence, of Chea Poch. This is a return to the days of the one-party state under Hun Sen. These developments are indicative of a new backlash and a slap in the face for the process of democratisation in South-East Asia.
Dissident opinions and comments should be challenged by means of public debate rather than in courts of law, and the arrest of dissidents in Cambodia is a serious threat to freedom of expression and political pluralism in that country. We have to take action against this new attempt by those in power to neutralise the opposition and complete the process of turning Cambodia into a dictatorship.
Bernd Posselt (PPE-DE), author. – (DE) Mr President, Cambodian culture was once known worldwide as a symbol of peace, yet, since then, scarcely any other country has had as much to endure as Cambodia, which was occupied by foreigners during the Second World War, the later Vietnam War and twice over in the war over Indo-China; it then suffered the terrors of the Khmer Rouge, with their policy of exterminating millions of people in ways that defy comparison, followed by another variety of Communism – the Vietnamese one this time – which, too, involved rule by foreigners. After the country had endured all these horrors, the setting in motion of a peace process there has called for a great deal of political effort on the part of the United Nations, the European Union and, not least, the people who live there; it has been a complicated business and has called for a great deal of dedication and a lot of money.
It can be said that what was accomplished then is, today, in ruins, for we see that another unjust regime is establishing itself in Cambodia, and, as that is something that we cannot accept under any circumstances, I would refer the House to paragraph 5 of our resolution, which states quite clearly that the agreement that we concluded with Cambodia is founded upon democracy and human rights. That is not an empty diplomatic phrase with which we politely introduce agreeable transactions; on the contrary, it spells out the terms on which business is done at all. The Council, the Commission, and this House, now have the task of making it plain to our Cambodian partners that if they keep on violating those terms, they will no longer be able to do business with us.
We must, once and for all, get effective pressure put on Cambodia to uphold human rights, and that means more than just sending protest notes. It is for that reason that I would suggest that we should – and as soon as possible – invite the United Nations special envoy to Cambodia to this House for in-depth discussions with him about the state of affairs in this tormented country. We can rejoice that our pressure and that exerted by the Americans – for it is good that we are cooperating in this – has resulted in the release of prisoners, but, while certainly acknowledging this, we know that they are still going to be put on trial. We know that there are many other prisoners, and that many more summonses and arrest warrants have been issued, and we are particularly aware of the repression of minorities. In contending against these things, we must do so with persistence, for persistence, above all, is what human rights policy is all about.
Erik Meijer (GUE/NGL), author. – (NL) Mr President, Cambodia was a peaceful neighbour to Vietnam, until foreigners intervened in its affairs at the beginning of the 1970s. In Vietnam, war raged over the reunification of the Northern and Southern sectors of what had once been a French colony, with America wishing to keep the south as its own sphere of influence. The suspicion that the Vietnamese guerrilla movement, which fought for the reunion of North and South, was making use of supply routes running through inhospitable parts of Cambodia was reason enough for the Americans to intervene and bring it under the control of a friendly government.
Since then, Cambodia, formerly so peaceful, has been a country at odds with itself. It appears that state power, having been achieved with so much difficulty, must not be put at risk in any way. A tradition has developed of parties being no more willing to enter into coalitions with others than they are to tolerate opposition. First, there was a government friendly to the Americans, which was followed by Pol Pot’s pro-Chinese reign of terror and then, with Vietnamese help, the government of Hun Sen. Subsequent elections have produced results that have made it virtually impossible to form governments with widespread support.
Various parties are unwilling to cooperate with each other, wanting instead to rule on their own. This attitude has now resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of opposition members of parliament. Journalists, human rights activists and trade unionists are also arrested on charges of defamation. The consequence of all this is that the police and the judiciary are being turned into instruments of political in-fighting. For the moment, I do not get the impression that the opposition is much more democratic than the party in government. All the political forces in Cambodia should abandon this sort of behaviour.
Up to now, the outside world has failed to help Cambodia develop a tolerant democracy. It is worth recalling that Pol Pot’s bloodthirsty regime remained internationally recognised for a long period of time, even after being defeated, the only reason for that being that the new regime under Hun Sen, which had liberated the country from that band of murderers, was suspected of maintaining friendly relations with its Vietnamese neighbour. In future, Cambodia must get a quite different message. Europe must not take sides on the basis of considerations that the Cambodians find incomprehensible, but must consistently stand up for human rights and democracy, irrespective of who is in power.
Alyn Smith (Verts/ALE), author. – Mr President, I believe these urgency debates are important for this House and for the European Union. I believe they are worthy.
However, as we discuss Cambodia, I am struck by the fact that we have been here before, and that we have heard all this before. Specifically, we have been here before on 13 January 2005, 10 March 2005 and 1 December 2005. Will anybody take a bet with me that we will be here again in six months’ time?
I am not saying that we should not have these debates. But I am saying that we should have our concern matched by action from the other EU institutions and the Member States we serve.
I would refer you to paragraph 4 of the resolution in particular. We are not without arms; we are not without pressure that we can exert. The Cambodian Government relies on the donor community for 50% of its annual expenditure. We must use that pressure more forcefully to achieve change, as opposed to just using warm words.
This is not the West dictating to a developing nation how it should run itself; this is the European Union expecting Cambodia to honour the agreements it has already signed up to, and to live up to international standards of decency.
We are willing to play our part in that process. In paragraph 12, we reiterate our call for an ad hoc delegation from this House to go to Cambodia to see the problems for ourselves. Let us start there. This motion for a resolution has the enthusiastic backing of my group and indeed my own backing. It contains a welter of information and worthy aims, but without more overt economic pressure from us, I fear that it will remain a shopping list never to be fulfilled.
Ari Vatanen, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Mr President, I can only echo the statement made by the honourable Member, Mr Smith. We do seem to be going over the same subject again and again, with no real result. Is it because Cambodia is too far away? Human suffering, regardless of where it happens, is always the same when it comes to the individual.
I should cite what Human Rights Watch said about Cambodia in 2005: ‘The political opposition was effectively dismantled with the arrest or threat of arrest of opposition parliamentarians and the impunity of perpetrators of human rights abuses continued. Political trials demonstrated the Government’s ongoing control, interference and intimidation in the work of the courts.’ That is the bleak situation in Cambodia. I should remind you that in 1997 the only opposition politician, Sam Rainsy – who, paradoxically, is protected by this House’s Freedom-Passport Initiative – was giving a speech in the capital when several grenades were launched into the crowd in front of him and at least 16 people died. That is what happens when an opposition leader makes a speech in the capital of that country.
We cannot continue just paying lip service; we must put our money where our mouth is. As Mr Smith said, one of the most effective penalties would be to stop giving money to Cambodia as long as the criteria of democracy and human rights are not fulfilled. Also, a travel visa ban on officials would be very effective, because the elite of that country come to the capitals of Europe to shop and so forth.
In contrast, however, free trade has to be retained. Trade sanctions will only increase the poverty and misery of the people. The sympathy of this House is with those people in Cambodia who are fighting for democracy and human rights.
Luis Yáñez-Barnuevo García, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (ES) Mr President, I agree with the words of the previous speakers but, in particular, those of Mrs Geringer de Oedenberg, a member of my group and author of one of these resolutions that we are going to vote on next.
Cambodia does indeed have a recent tragic history of flagrant human rights violations and, in the past, horrendously violent wars. The discouragement felt by many Members when we see that things are not improving and that we have to deal with this issue over and over again in this Chamber is understandable, but we must not for that reason cease to raise the issue whenever events such as the recent ones take place, involving the repression of human rights activists, radio stations, teachers’ unions, activists, journalists, trade unionists in different fields, former parliamentarians, etc. Only with the help of vigorous and decisive measures on the part of the European Union, the Commission and this Parliament where Cambodia is concerned might actions of this kind be reduced or eliminated.
There are five points that I am not going to mention, but I would like in particular to remind Cambodia of the action that the community of donors can and does take and of the human rights clause in the European Union-Cambodia Cooperation Agreement. It is also important to send a delegation to Cambodia to assess the situation. Finally, I would like to demand recognition of the refugee status of Khmers from Vietnam.
I shall not say any more, Mr President, due to lack of time, but I would emphasise that I agree with what previous speakers have said.
Jaromír Kohlíček, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. –(CS) Ladies and gentlemen, human rights represent a set of ideals. Even the most democratic of countries only comes close to these ideals in certain spheres. In any event, until recently Cambodia was still faced with such problems as the remnants of Pol Pot’s troops, illiteracy and the lack of an intelligentsia or any industry in the country. In comparison, the present situation is undoubtedly a clear improvement. At the same time, however, it is of course intolerable that basic procedures should be disregarded when members of the Cambodian Parliament are sentenced to several years in prison. There is clearly an urgent need to ensure that conditions are in place that allow representatives of international organisations to do their jobs, as well as to promote the emergence of a free press and respect for trade union rights.
A fact-finding mission would doubtless be a very good idea, and I would recommend that European Parliament representatives be sent to the country as soon as possible, once an agreement has been reached with the Cambodian Government. I find it particularly alarming that it is possible for the judiciary to be misused in order to deal with cases of alleged defamation. If we tacitly approve of an approach of this kind, we could be regarded as being complicit in such crimes. I am therefore very much in favour of the motion for a resolution.
Ryszard Czarnecki (NI). – (PL) Mr President, there were no less than three European Parliament resolutions on Cambodia last year, and I should like the House to bear this in mind as I speak on the matter. The Cambodian authorities show blatant disregard for the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and for the European Union guidelines on the subject adopted two years ago.
I was very pleased that six days ago the Austrian Presidency lodged such a strong and unequivocal protest against the worsening situation in Cambodia. The arrest of journalists, independent activists and trade unionists testifies to the increasingly repressive nature of the regime in that country.
I agree with Mr Smith and Mr Vatanen who said that we must apply economic pressure to the Cambodian authorities. Fifty per cent of Cambodia’s budget is overseas aid, and we should use it as a tool. I am also very much in favour of sending an ad hoc delegation as suggested in the resolution. We really need to see for ourselves what the situation is like on the ground.
Louis Michel, Member of the Commission. Mr President, the current political situation in Cambodia remains of serious concern. Since the lifting of parliamentary immunity for Mr Sam Rainsy, the leader of the Cambodian opposition Sam Rainsy Party, and two other members of the National Assembly in February last year, the political situation has deteriorated considerably. The recent arrest of Mr Kem Sokha, Director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, and other human rights defenders constitutes the latest chapter in this depressing story. It is sadly ironic that these latest arrests relate to events which took place on Human Rights Day, when a number of organisations were peacefully celebrating and trying to uphold the principles of human rights and democracy. The Commission strongly welcomes the recent release on bail of Mr Sokha and four other individuals but would have wished the Cambodian authorities to have gone a step further and dropped the charges altogether.
The Commission believes that the weakening of the opposition through the politicised use of the judiciary threatens to disrupt the still-developing democratic process in Cambodia. Moreover, the targeting of human rights organisations through a series of arrests on criminal – not civil – charges which are out of proportion with the alleged crimes is creating a climate of fear for human rights defenders in the country.
The Commission and EU Member States have agreed to a number of measures to respond to the situation. Following the issuing of a strong EU declaration on the subject, the EU intends to raise these issues directly with the Prime Minister at the first opportunity. At the same time, the Commission and Member States will work even more closely with the human rights organisations which have been targeted in order to support their work. As recommended by Parliament in its last resolution on Cambodia, the Commission is currently considering whether to propose the establishment of a working group on cooperation in the areas of institution-building, administrative reform, governance and human rights in order constructively to engage the Cambodian authorities on these issues.
Finally, in the forthcoming donor meeting in Phnom Penh in March, a strong message will be passed to the Cambodian authorities by the EU and the donor community as a whole that freedom of expression and other basic human rights must be upheld in the interest of all Cambodia’s citizens.
I would like to assure this House that the Commission, through its delegation in Phnom Penh, and together with the missions of EU Member States in Cambodia, will continue to monitor the situation very closely. The international community, especially the EU which had such a vital role in the establishment of the new Cambodia, should ensure that the political situation does not deteriorate further and should support the strengthening and deepening of Cambodia’s democracy.
I agree, of course, with the honourable Members of the European Parliament that the events in question are very serious and deserve our full attention. The Commission, together with the EU Member States, is exploring the possibility of undertaking further measures beyond the ones I have just mentioned. However, I do not believe that at this point the EC-Cambodia Cooperation Agreement should be suspended. This would put our political dialogue on hold and interrupt our development programmes to the detriment of the poor people in Cambodia.