Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Malcolm Turnbull's Hun Sen photo opportunity!

Malcolm Turnbull
Prime Minister
Parliament House

24th November 2015

Dear Prime Minister

In the not-too-distant future you will welcome to Australia Cambodia’s long-term dictator, Hun Sen.

You will smile and shake his hand. Photos will be taken and published.

Captured in this frozen moment, for eternity, will be you shaking hands with a man who you know stole the 2013 election in Cambodia; a man who is now quite brazenly, in the full light of day, using intimidation and manipulation of the Cambodian judiciary to steal the next election.

Why does Australia treat Hun Sen as though he were the democratically elected Prime Minister of a functioning democracy?

Is it because a Turnbull government, following in the footsteps of an Abbott government, needs to remain on friendly terms with a country to which you hope to send more refugees to Australian shores in the future?

The Cambodian people made it clear in the 2013 election, almost certainly won by the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP),  despite electoral fraud, that they have had enough of Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party. 

Hun Sen knows that the only way he can possibly win the next election, if it is conducted in accordance with Cambodian electoral law, is to destroy the opposition by expelling members from the National Assembly, as he has in recent months; by having other members bashed outside the National Assembly whilst the police look on and do nothing; by jailing CNRP activists on trumped up charges and, a little over a week ago, by issuing a warrant for the arrest of the leader of the opposition, Sam Rainsy.

This is Hun Sen’s standard operating procedure – forcing Sam Rainsy into exile in the hope that a jailed, intimidated, leaderless and demoralized opposition will be unable to participate in any meaningful way in the next election.  Hun Sen, the Robert Mugabe of South East Asia, is a classic 20th C dictator trying desperately to cling to power in a new digitally-connected Facebook world.

The photo of you shaking hands with him, along with similar photos of him shaking hands with other world leaders,  will lend Hun Sen an air of political respectability that he does not deserve.

You know this, though it may be difficult to admit in public if you wish to retain Cambodia as a dumping ground for refugees trying to reach Australian shores.

Hundreds of millions of Australian tax-payer dollars have, directly and indirectly, been given in aid to Cambodia over the past 20 years of the Hun Sen regime.

To achieve what result?

To foster the development of democratic institutions in Cambodia.  To alleviate poverty?

No, Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party, and the patronage system that supports it, has plundered the country’s natural resources, stolen the land and homes of tens of thousands of Cambodians, intimidated, killed and imprisoned indigenous people and others who protest at being dispossessed and left 40% of the population suffering from malnutrition.

As the Hun Sen kleptocracy has pillaged the country this past 20 years, the international donor community has stood by, wringing its hands and expressing platitudes of ‘concern’ at regular intervals, as its members, including Australia,  continue to write large cheques to prop up what is, quite clearly, a dictatorship.

If Hun Sen succeeds in destroying Sam Rainsy’s CNRP in the next few months, if he steals the next election, there will be nothing him to stop him doing whatever is necessary to see to it that one of his sons succeeds him and that Cambodia remains a hereditary dictatorship. And the international donor community will be financing this constitutional coup.

History will not treat you kindly Mr Turnbull if, in 20 years time, Cambodia remains a dictatorship. You and other world leaders who turned a blind eye to Hun Sen’s breaches of Cambodian law and human rights abuses will, in your latter years, be held up as an example of what happens when short term gain (dumping refugees in Cambodia, in Australia’s case) is placed ahead of moral principle and the rule of law.

Your welcoming Hun Sen to Australia, your shaking of his hand, will Hun Sen’s corrupt regime with an undeserved imprimatur of respectability.

You could show real leadership here; demonstrate that your moral compass is pointed in the right direction by being the first member of the international donor community to stop funding the Hun Sen dictatorship to the tune of close to $100 million a year; by requesting of all those donor countries that pour half a billion dollars of aid into the country each year, that they turn the money spigot off until Hun Sen  stops subverting the will of the Cambodian people, stops stamping on every new green democratic shoot that seeks to push its way out of Cambodia’s blood-sodden soil and retracts his politically motivated arrest warrants.

You should cancel Hun Sen's visit and instead let him know,  in no uncertain terms, that Australian aid to Cambodia is tied to the development of democracy in Cambodia; not in propping up dictatorships such as the one he has visited upon Cambodia this past 20 years.

The photo opportunity of you shaking hands with Hun Sen is not one you need, Prime Minister.

best wishes

James Ricketson

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