Death knell for democracy as political opposition dissolved


As previously featured on the CIVICUS Monitor, the Cambodian authorities' disregard for civil and political freedoms has unleashed a backlash against independent media outlets, civil society groups and human rights defenders. On 17th November 2017, in a recent worrying development, the Supreme Court in Cambodia ruled to dissolve the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), effectively ending the main political opposition to Prime Minister Hun Sen in Cambodia. The move, which transforms Cambodia into a single party state, has drawn widespread condemnation from across the globe, prompting both the United States and European Union to threaten Cambodia with punitive trade sanctions. In addition to disbanding the CNRP, the ruling also bars 118 of its senior political officials from conducting any political activity in Cambodia for at least five years. The Supreme Court also noted that it will not permit an appeal to the decision. 

The dissolution comes after the CNRP was accused of attempting to otherthrow Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), which has been in power for over thirty years. The alleged plot called the "colourful revolution" was reported by the ruling party to be a collusion between the CNRP and foreign powers, prompting the Ministry of Interior to file a request to dissolve the CNRP on the 6th October 2017. The leader of the CNRP, Kem Sokha, was arrested on charges of treason on 3rd September 2017, and has remained in detention since.

In light of the controversial ruling, Prime Minister Hun Sen's unshakeable grip on power is stronger than ever ahead of the planned elections for 2018. Numerous civil society groups have called upon the international community to halt all financial and technical assistance to the Cambodian authorities immediately. 

Peaceful Assembly

Cambodian security forces in Ratanakkiri province threatened villagers and community organisers who mobilised against the activities of a Canadian owned gold mining company. The incident escalated after over 700 locals protested on 1st November 2017 against Angkor Gold's mine claiming that the company's activities had contaminated their water supply. In the wake of the protest, authorities alleged the protest was held for "political gain" by the political opposition and blamed an unknown NGO for masterminding the unrest; fifteen people were later interrogated by police for their role in the coordinating the protest. In a statement, one of the individuals involved commented on the incident, asserting that:

“[The police] wanted to know who led the protest...We all from the village did it together, but no one led it. We are not the opposition party...We just do not want the company to do gold mine exploration in our community forest”.

The 15 individuals were brought to O’Yadav District Police Station where they were questioned by the Provincial Deputy Police Chief Chea Bunthoeun and Pate Commune Chief Chhay Thy. They were reportedly threatened at the station that they would be charged with criminal cases if they continued with the protest against the mining company. While all 15 were later released, the Cambodian police failed to explain how the protest violated the law. Similarly, many fear that organisations working on mining issues will suffer further harassment as a result of the incident.