THE UNITED STATES on Wednesday announced new visa restrictions upon individuals it said were involved in “undermining democracy” and violating human rights in Cambodia.
The US State Department said in a statement that it was taking “concrete steps” to respond to actions taken by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government in Cambodia, which it said “run counter to the Paris Peace Agreements of 1991 that … afforded the Cambodian people democratic rights”.
Hun Sen – who has ruled the Kingdom for more than 30 years – is presiding over what many have claimed is a crackdown against political opposition ahead of elections in 2018.
Cambodia’s Supreme Court last month dissolved the primary opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), having arrested its leader Kem Sokha on charges of treason in September.
“In direct response to the Cambodian government’s series of anti-democratic actions, we announce the Secretary of State will restrict entry into the United States of those individuals involved in undermining democracy in Cambodia,” said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert.
The State Department said family members of those responsible may also face visa restrictions.
“We call on the Cambodian government to reverse course by reinstating the political opposition, releasing Kem Sokha, and allowing civil society and media to resume their constitutionally protected activities,” added the statement.
“Such actions could lead to a lifting of these travel restrictions and increase the potential for Cambodia’s 2018 electoral process to regain legitimacy.”
Cambodia’s government recently shuttered the local office of US-funded non-profit the National Democratic Institute and deported its foreign staff, who included American citizens. It also forced the Cambodia Daily newspaper to close by delivering a massive tax bill to the company.
The move follows an open letter from 158 parliamentarians from across the globe to Hun Sen calling for the reversal of the decision to abolish the CNRP and to “immediately and unconditionally release” Kem Sokha from detention.
Prominent US Senator Ted Cruz in October publicly called upon Cambodian authorities to release Kem Sokha, threatening that a failure to do so would endanger the future of US-Cambodian relations.