Phnom Penh (August 18, 2022) — U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations East Asia, Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Subcommittee, and Representatives John Garamendi (CA-03), Don Beyer (VA-08), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), and Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (AS) visited Cambodia as part of their ongoing visit to Asia. During their visit, the delegation met with the U.S. Embassy to Cambodia’s Chargé d’affaires Benjamin Wohlauer to discuss U.S.-Cambodia relations.
On Tuesday, the delegation met with more than a dozen government officials and legislators including Minister of Public Works and Transportation Sun Chanthol and National Assembly Member Sous Yara. During the meeting, Senator Markeyurged the Cambodian government to protect human rights, political freedoms, and free speech. He implored the government to release political prisoners including Cambodian-American activist Theary Seng, and to allow for free participation in elections. The delegation also discussed ways that the United States can support Cambodia’s international climate change commitments and transition to renewable energy. The two governments discussed the Chinese military presence within Cambodia and the delegation raised concerns in particular about reports that the People’s Liberation Army is building a base for Chinese use at the Ream Naval Base.
“As evidenced by the large and prosperous Cambodian-American community in Massachusetts, the Cambodian people have an incredible will and spirit that has helped them overcome the tragedy of Cambodia’s civil war,” said Senator Markey. “The Government of Cambodia must live up to the promise of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements and embrace the freedoms of expression, civil and political rights that were so hard fought. Cambodians overcame decades of war and chaos that cost the country millions of lives, and deserve to enjoy the democratic freedoms they were promised. The government must release political prisoners, end the crackdown against opposition parties, and allow for freedom of expression and a free press. They should be skeptical of Chinese military ambitions in Cambodia and prevent any base for use by the PLA, which is prohibited by the Cambodian constitution.”
The delegation also met with members of civil society to discuss climate change, press freedom, labor and land right issues, and political participation.
Senator Markey continued, “Cambodia is ranked as one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change. Young Cambodians understand that their land is their future. Without robust action, climate change could shrink Cambodia’s economy by nearly 10 percent by 2050. We look forward to working with Cambodia to support investments in clean energy, climate resilience, and assistance for adaptation and mitigation to strengthen its economy and build upon our nations’ relationship.”
The delegation also had a meeting with Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha, who has been charged by the government with politically motivated accusations of treason. Despite five years of harassment and charges, he continues to speak out in support of freedom for all Cambodians.
“I thank Mr. Kem Sokha for his bravery and willingness to continue to stand up for the rights of all Cambodians despite ongoing harassment by the government,” said Senator Markey. “All charges against him should be dropped immediately, and he and the Cambodia National Rescue Party should be free to participate in elections.”
On Wednesday, the delegation visited UNESCO World Heritage site Angkor Wat. In July, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously passed Senator Markey’s bipartisan Cambodia Democracy and Human Rights Act. The legislation targets officials engaged in abuses and corruption that undermine democracy and human rights in Cambodia. Under Prime Minister Hun Sen’s leadership, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party has maintained one-party control of the government – in violation of the Cambodian constitution – through corruption, banning political opposition, political persecutions, repressive laws, and cracking down on free speech and independent media.