(New York) – The Cambodian government should immediately rescind its order banning the return to Cambodia of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, Human Rights Watch said today. On October 12, 2016, the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen directed all airlines flying to Cambodia not to allow Rainsy into the country.
“The official exile of opposition leader Sam Rainsy is just the latest effort by Cambodia’s ruling party to win the next national elections – by ensuring they have no real competition,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Cambodia’s donors and ASEAN members should urgently and publicly call on Prime Minister Hun Sen to end his political persecution of the opposition.”
The order, which has been made public by the government’s Supreme Directorate of Immigration, states that:
- No airline carrier should allow Sam Rainsy to board for Cambodia;
- If Sam Rainsy is on a flight to Cambodia, the plane will be ordered to return to the point of origin;
- If Sam Rainsy is on a flight to Cambodia and arrives in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, the plane will be returned to the point of origin; and
- If Sam Rainsy succeeds in boarding a flight, arrives in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, and leaves the plane, the immigration police are to take all necessary measures to arrest him.
The government also ordered officials to “be aware and check at the … terminals or other border checkpoints to report if Sam Rainsy comes through. Then, take actions according to the legal procedures to prevent him entering Cambodia. The actions should be highly effective.”
The order violates Cambodia’s obligations under international human rights law and contravenes the Cambodian constitution. Cambodia is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which ensures the right to freedom of movement. Article 12(4) states, “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.” Article 13(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” Article 33 of the Cambodian constitution states that “Khmer citizens shall not be deprived of their nationality, exiled or arrested and deported to any foreign country unless there is a mutual agreement on extradition.”
“The actions against Sam Rainsy again expose Hun Sen’s intention to return Cambodia to a de facto one-party state, with little room for critical or opposition voices,” Adams said.
The order follows a series of politically motivated criminal cases against Rainsy, the longtime leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), that led him to stay out of the country to avoid imprisonment. The government has also carried out many arbitrary arrests and detentions of opposition members of the National Assembly and Senate, opposition party activists, and members of civil society groups, including staff of the internationally respected Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC).
During the past 12 months, reacting to ongoing public statements by the CNRP that it will win national elections scheduled for 2018, Hun Sen and other leaders of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), including those in the armed forces and police, have made a series of increasingly dire public threats against the opposition. These threats followed a public campaign to remove Kem Sokha, deputy CNRP leader and vice president of the National Assembly, from his post. In October 2015, CPP-organized mobs carried out a brutal assault on two opposition parliamentarians. The CPP then voted to strip Sokha of his leadership post in the National Assembly. He is now facing imprisonment on politically motivated charges for which he was convicted on September 9, 2016.
“Exiling the opposition leader around the 25th anniversary of the Paris Peace Agreements, which were supposed to end one-party rule, is particularly galling,” Adams said. “Many Cambodians hoped the Paris Agreements would usher in pluralistic democracy, but Hun Sen seems intent on reversing all the gains of the last 25 years.”