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PHNOM PENH – Human Rights Watch has urged the European Commission to remove trade benefits from Cambodia, claiming there is “no point insisting on human rights standards but then dropping them because of the stubbornness of a dictator.”

The NGO claims Cambodia’s Prime Minister, Hun Sen, is ‘taunting’ the EU by flagrantly ignoring its requests that the country respects human rights in return for retaining its trade sweeteners under the EBA programme. This sees Cambodian goods enter the EU duty-free – a huge boost for the country’s largest industry, garment manufacture.

Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW said: “Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has thrown down the gauntlet to the EU by putting Kem Sokha, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party’s (CNRP) current president, on trial for treason.

“His alleged crime was to say that he had received training from a US-based non-governmental organisation on democracy. A government-controlled court has announced that his trial – which should be summarily dismissed for lack of evidence – will take three months.

“Hun Sen, in power for 35 years and showing no signs of relinquishing his dictatorial rule, responded by doubling down on repression. He not only refused to lift the ban on the CNRP, but instead engaged in a fevered campaign accusing it of trying to engage in a colour revolution and start a civil war – simply by calling for democratic elections.”

Adams added: “Cambodia is the EBA’s second biggest beneficiary, with a whopping 40 per cent of all EBA exports. When EBA preferences were granted in 2001, the Cambodian government knew that this was a privilege conditioned on respecting the principles laid down in international human rights treaties and core International Labour Organisation conventions. Yet the situation has degraded considerably.

“Next month, the EU will have no other choice than to follow its own law and suspend Cambodia’s EBA privileges. This would kick off a six-month grace period before trade privileges are lost. It will then be up to Hun Sen whether to respect the requirements of the EBA scheme. After that, trade would continue, but without preferential treatment.

“For the EU not to act would be to betray the Cambodian people, who for too long have endured a de facto one-party authoritarian state. It would also render meaningless the commitments Cambodia and the 48 other countries currently benefiting from the EU’s EBA preferential treatment.”

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