Cambodia: Back Independent Election Inquiry

(New York) – Cambodia’s donors and other countries should publicly press the Cambodian government to set up an independent, internationally assisted investigation into disputed national elections in July 2013, Human Rights Watch said today in letters to leaders in France, Australia, and Japan.

Despite numerous credible reports of an unfair election system, serious irregularities that may have affected the outcome, and an unwillingness by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to seriously address complaints, the prime ministers of France, Australia, and Japan each sent congratulatory letters to Hun Sen after CPP assembly members, in the absence of any opposition members, named him prime minister.

“Hun Sen presided over a fundamentally flawed election,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Democratic leaders should skip the congratulations and instead insist on an independent investigation into malfeasance at the polls.”

Independent Cambodian election monitoring groups, international nongovernmental organizations, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia have concluded that the election process was severely marred by significant structural flaws and irregularities related to voter registration, voter fraud, partisan election bodies, media bias and lack of access for the opposition, unfair use of state resources by the Cambodian People’s Party, and partisanship by the state security forces.

The result was an election that has created significant doubt about whether the official results reflect the votes cast, Human Rights Watch said. This has been heightened by the refusal of the CPP-controlled National Election Committee and Constitutional Council to conduct genuine investigations into even well-documented problems, including by effectively refusing to consider complaints brought by the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party.

Human Rights Watch pointed out that France, Australia, and Japan are signatories to the 1991 Paris Agreements and made treaty commitments to democracy in Cambodia. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan declared on January 28 that “Fundamental to our diplomacy will be for us to develop a strategic diplomacy based on the fundamental values of freedom, democracy, basic human rights, and the rule of law.”

The United States, the United Kingdom, and a number of other countries that were signatories to the 1991 Agreements have not sent congratulations to Hun Sen.

“Are France, Japan, and Australia more interested in making friends with an authoritarian leader in power for 28 years, or in supporting the democratic aspirations of a long oppressed people?” Adams said. “Premature congratulations from elected leaders undermine the hopes of millions of Cambodians who rely on the international community to back their demands for free and fair elections.”