French Minister Pressures Cambodia on Rights

At an event on Thursday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements, French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault urged Cambodia to pursue governance that respects the rule of law, multiparty democracy and human rights.

In a statement read by Jean-Claude Poimboeuf, the French ambassador to Cambodia, Mr. Ayrault said the 1991 agreement had restored Cambodia’s place in the international community following decades of war.

Attendees watch a presentation at an event in Phnom Penh on Thursday commemorating the 25th anniversary of the signing of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Attendees watch a presentation at an event in Phnom Penh on Thursday commemorating the 25th anniversary of the signing of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Expressing regret that he could not be present for the commemorations at the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Phnom Penh, Mr. Ayrault said France “exhorts its Cambodian friends to pursue the building of a state based on the rule of law, a pluralistic democracy respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Such conditions are “the best guarantee of economic and social development benefitting the largest number of people, and therefore of long-term stability,” he said at the meeting attended by Cambodian Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn.

Delivered amid widespread international pressure over Cambodia’s crackdowns on political opponents, the message was mild compared to a joint statement released on Wednesday by 40 NGOs from around Asia ruing Cambodia’s failure to fulfill its commitments to human rights as stipulated in the 1991 agreement.

“We, the undersigned civil society organizations, are deeply concerned by the escalating political crisis in Cambodia,” the statement said. “There remains concerns that the situation, if neglected, will decline further, leading to a complete collapse of the settlement agreed in Paris a quarter of a century ago.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn speaks at an event in Phnom Penh on Thursday commemorating the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn speaks at an event in Phnom Penh on Thursday commemorating the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The statement highlighted the judicial persecution of opposition politicians and human rights defenders, including the jailing of activists and a new NGO law restricting their activities.

Keo Remy, the head of the government’s Human Rights Committee, who attended the conference, said the Paris agreement had been fulfilled by the peace that now exists in Cambodia.

“How about human rights in every country? When you do more research you will know that the human rights situation in Cambodia is better,” he said. “What’s most important is peace, because if there’s no peace then there’s zero human rights.”

Jean-David Levitte, a French diplomat who took part in the 1991 negotiations, said at the event that the difficult task of bringing together the fractious parties in Cambodia could be a blueprint for other countries mired in conflict.

(Reporting by Ben Sokhean, Michael Dickison, Michelle Vachon and Janelle Retka)

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