Speeches Chris has made in the Australian Federal Parliament.

Chris Hayes MP – Private Members’ Business - Human Rights: Cambodia

March 22, 2021

Mr HAYES (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (12:43): 'Liberal principles—political ideas that espouse the importance of individual liberties, minority rights and the separation of powers at all levels of government—are being pulled apart.' That's a statement by the US based Brookings Institution. It puts into perspective the grave human rights situation faced in many countries around the globe, with research indicating that after decades of expansion democracy is now entering a period of retreat. Clearly, Cambodia is not immune to that trend. On that note, I also thank the Member for Bruce for his motion and for his ongoing advocacy, particularly in regard to human rights for the people of Cambodia. Like the Member for Bruce and the Member for Werriwa, I have been contacted by many members of the Cambodian diaspora who are worried about the deteriorating human rights situation in Cambodia.

The Cambodian elections in 2018 were nothing short of a sham. The reinstatement of the Hun Sen government's 33-year reign effectively returned Cambodia to a one-party autocratic state. The elections were neither free nor fair and failed to represent the genuine will of the Cambodian people, given the level of voter intimidation and the absence of any viable challengers. You will recall that the government arrested the Opposition Leader, Kem Sokha, dissolved the main opposition party and led an assault on media organisations and NGOs critical of government policies. The situation in Cambodia in terms of political and human rights developments remains highly repressive. The Hun Sen government has continued its crackdown against critical independent voices and forced the closure of many media outlets. The space for civil society also continues to be narrow, with significant limitation on freedom of expression, including the arrest and detention of a number of political activists, of whom I understand 60 remain in prison.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also been used by Hun Sen as a pretext to further his grip on power. In 2020, according to a Human Rights Watch report, the Hun Sen government repeatedly resorted to violence against protesters, opposition party members and ordinary citizens for peaceful expressions of their opinions. The Cambodian government has manipulated the situation involving the COVID-19 pandemic to enact a state of emergency law severely restricting ongoing civil liberty. It allows the granting of extensive powers to the Prime Minister, including bans on the distribution of information, intrusive surveillance on telecommunications and total control of the media. It also empowers the government to restrict movement and demonstrations, and it opens the way for unfettered aspects of government control.

If this wasn't enough, these laws are being imposed with disproportionate penalties, with Amnesty International noting that the legislation allows for prison sentences of up to 10 years on convictions. If that's not alarming enough, it is particularly problematic in Cambodia, where the courts essentially act on the whim of the government. The courts do not act with necessary judicial independence.

We now see the influence of, as has been spoken about, foreign interference, with the Hun Sen government even being played out here in our university campuses, business and charities, where support bases have been actively built for this Cambodian dictator. In February this year, Radio Australia reported on the multimillion-dollar investments being made in Australia by many of the Cambodian ruling elite over the last five years. On this note I call on the government to follow the lead of the United States and consider imposing targeted sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, against Cambodian political and military leaders who are found to be responsible for corruption and serious human rights violations. Clearly the situation in Cambodia is a perfect example of why it would be prudent to legislate Magnitsky-style legislation.

In the 1990s Australia played a leading role in helping transform Cambodia from a communist dictatorship to a multiparty to democracy. For the sake of humanity it's now time to show the same level of commitment.