Foreign governments are being urged to follow the lead of the European Union (EU) and pressure authorities in Cambodia to take action to address the human rights situation in the country.
The EU will partially suspend Cambodia’s Everything But Arms (EBA) trade benefits from 12 August in response to the Cambodian government’s “serious and systematic violations” of four human and labour rights conventions.
Now 33 leading human rights organisations and multi-stakeholder initiatives want governments in Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Sweden, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States to echo the EU in its call for the respect of human rights.
“Our organisations are saying these governments need to urge the Cambodian government to take meaningful measures that reverse the deterioration of Cambodia’s human rights situation in order to restore trade preferences or lift suspensions of bilateral aid,” they say in a joint open letter.
Signatories include the Clean Clothes Campaign, Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), Fair Labor Association (FLA), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC).
The groups say the Cambodian government continues to crack down on civil society, independent media, and the political opposition and human rights defenders to silence critical voices in the country.
They add: “In the past three years it has adopted a series of repressive laws that unduly restrict human rights. In November 2019, the Cambodian authorities had arbitrarily detained nearly 90 people solely on the basis of the peaceful expression of their opinions or political views as well as their political affiliations.
“In April, the Cambodian government used the Covid-19 crisis to adopt an unnecessary and draconian state of emergency law that provides the authorities with broad and unfettered powers to restrict freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.”
Among their demands, they want the Cambodian government to take immediate action by releasing all political prisoners, cease harassment against union leaders, drop treason charges against opposition leader Kem Sokha, investigate attacks against critics of the government, repeal the Law on the Management of the Nation in State of Emergency, and cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Special Procedures so that they can fulfil their mandates without interference.
The EU’s decision to partially end Cambodia’s trade benefits amounts to around one-fifth or EUR1bn (US$1.12bn) of Cambodia’s annual exports to the EU, and represents the withdrawal of benefits on around 20% of apparel imports and about 30% of the country’s footwear exports to the EU.
It has also sparked calls for the withdrawal to be postponed for at least 12 months as the country struggles with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. Some European garment brands are weighing up what their future sourcing strategies in Cambodia will look like once the trade preferences are removed.
A recent analysis on just-style has taken a closer look at How the EU trade curb will affect Cambodia’s apparel industry.