Bipartisan legislation supports democracy and protection for human rights in Cambodia; requires reporting on Chinese military activity

Washington (July 19, 2022) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations East Asia, Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Subcommittee, Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) applauded the unanimous passage of their bill, S. 3052 the Cambodia Democracy and Human Rights Act, by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today.

This legislation, based on legislation first introduced in 2019, has 13 additional bipartisan cosponsors and 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. The primary opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has been banned, and many of its leaders, including Khem Sokha, persecuted, jailed, or exiled. In recent years the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the military of the Government of China, has increased its presence and influence in the country, including reportedly breaking ground in June on a naval facility in Cambodia for PLA use, which violates the Cambodian constitution’s prohibition against foreign military bases.

“I am pleased the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has passed the Cambodia Democracy and Human Rights Act to hold Cambodian officials accountable for corruption and abuses that harm the people of Cambodia,” said Chairman Markey. “Prime Minister Hun Sen and his cronies have overseen a nationwide crackdown against political opposition, free speech, and journalism, while embracing endemic corruption at the expense of the Cambodian people. The promise of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements, a representative democracy that reflects the will of the Cambodian people, cannot be abandoned. I urge swift Senate and then House passage so we can sign this bill into law without delay.”  

“The Hun Sen dictatorship destroyed democracy in Cambodia and allowed the nation to be exploited by the Chinese Communist Party,” said Senator Rubio. “We need to hold bad actors in Cambodia accountable. I look forward to swift Senate passage of our bipartisan bill.”

“Cambodian democracy is suffering at the hands of an oppressive ruler and his cronies who are dead set on violating the nation’s constitution, and arresting, threatening, and harassing political opponents and peaceful activists,” said Senator Durbin. “For example, Theary Seng, a Cambodian-American democracy and human rights activist, who escaped Cambodia’s killing fields as a child, was convicted last month on fabricated charges of treason for peaceful opposition to the ruling regime. The passage out of Committee of the bipartisan Cambodia Democracy and Human Rights Act and its consequential sanctions sends a clear message that the U.S. Senate stands against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s human rights violations and with the people of Cambodia, and I urge the Senate to pass this bill without delay.”

Specifically, the Cambodia Democracy and Human Rights Act:

  • Applies asset blocking sanctions on anyone, including senior officials of the Government, military, or security forces of Cambodia, that the President determines has undermined democracy in Cambodia, engaged in significant corruption, committed related human rights violations, or has engaged in or supports the establishment of installations or facilities that could be used by the PLA or entities tied to the PLA in Cambodia.
  • Codifies the State Department’s existing visa restrictions for individuals engaged in such activity.
  • Requires the President to transmit to Congress a list of individuals engaged in such activities.
  • Includes a Presidential waiver upon a certification that such waiver is in the national interest of the United States.
  • Allows that sanctions may be suspended for up to one year, and renewed for one-year periods, upon the President’s certification to Congress that Cambodia is making meaningful progress towards ending government efforts to undermine democracy, ending related human rights violations, and conducting free and fair elections.
  • Requires the President to submit a report to Congress detailing activities of the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the People’s Liberation Army inside Cambodia, including through the Belt and Road Initiative, and the impact their presence has had on the deterioration of democracy and human rights inside Cambodia.