Speeches Chris has made in the Australian Federal Parliament.


September 04, 2017

Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (12:29): I also rise to speak about the contemporary human rights situation in Cambodia. There is an increasing threat to civil society, independent journalism and opposing political groups in Cambodia today. With the upcoming general election, many groups and individuals have been subjected to intimidation from the government for exercising their rights to freedom of speech, peaceful assembly and political expression. I've been made aware of many of these concerns by local Cambodian Australians living in my electorate. They've shared with me, firstly, their struggles which they faced when they were forced to flee their homeland following the occupation by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge through the seventies and eighties, with many of them resettling here in Australia. The development and ongoing contribution of the Cambodian community to this country is a very successful migrant story. But despite these challenges, and many that they still face, they continue to share that dream and passion for a more open society in Cambodia.

In Cambodia today there are escalating threats to independent media and civil society, with authorities now alleging that outlets and organisations owe back taxes as a means to close them down. I have been informed that independent English-language newspaper The Cambodia Daily has been threatened with closure under these allegations. Furthermore, two radio stations—the Women's Media Centre for Cambodia and Mohanokor—were recently suspended for breaching their licence agreements. They were airing news from Radio Free Asia and the Voice of America. I was informed that the National Democratic Institute, a US NGO focusing on civil participation, was told in late August this year that all its foreign staff must leave Cambodia within seven days and that it must close operations. All domestic and international NGOs are required to register with the government in Cambodia and to report their activities and their finances on a regular basis. If they fail to comply they risk being charged for contempt and face criminal prosecution. Hence, organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International do not have offices operating in Cambodia.

This level of intimidation is increasing in the lead-up to next year's general election in July. It is concerning that Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned repeatedly of civil war should his ruling party lose the general election. It is also widely reported that many government agencies have threatened violence should people protest the election results. These acts of intimidation follow the murder of Kem Ley, a prominent political commentator and critic of the Hun Sen government in relation to, in particular, issues of illegal logging and corruption. The founder of Khmer for Khmer, a grassroots advocacy group, Kem Ley was shot and killed in July last year at a petrol station in Phnom Penh. I'm advised that there are many questions outstanding in regard to the investigation into Mr Ley's murder despite a person being convicted in March this year.

In a stunning recent development, Kem Sokha, the leader of Cambodia's main opposition party, was arrested this weekend on charges of treason. The government has alleged that he is participating with a Washington based organisation to undermine the country's leadership. According to John Sifton, the director of Human Rights Watch Asia:

The government's charges lack credibility, given its long record of misusing its legal system to silence or intimidate critics and political opponents.

The arrest of Kem Sokha is a dangerous setback to Cambodia, only reinforcing the long-ruling authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen's bid to consolidate power ahead of next year's election.

Addressing these issues of human rights are essential for any development in Cambodia. Promoting safety in society through the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, rather than threatening, can help Cambodia improve its standing in the global community. Given Australia's ambitions for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, we can play a greater role as we develop closer economic ties with countries in the Asia-Pacific. We can ensure that our commercial ties help states like Cambodia to improve their human rights records, which will in turn open up new economic opportunities. (Time expired)

Debate interrupted.