Gareth Evans slams Abbott government's dealings with Cambodia

Gareth Evans: Wants a "robust critique" of Cambodia's regime. Photo: Jesse Marlow
Gareth Evans: Wants a "robust critique" of Cambodia's regime. Photo: Jesse Marlow
Gareth Evans: Wants a "robust critique" of Cambodia's regime. Photo: Jesse Marlow

Gareth Evans: Wants a "robust critique" of Cambodia's regime. Photo: Jesse Marlow

Bangkok: The Australian architect of a plan that brought peace to war-ravaged Cambodia in the early 1990s has lashed out at the country’s strongman Prime Minister, Hun Sen, saying his behaviour, including violent repression “has now moved beyond the civilised pale”.

Gareth Evans, a former Labor foreign minister, called for international sanctions to be imposed on Cambodia only days after the Abbott government asked Mr Hun Sen to accept refugees seeking asylum in Australia.

The request, which Cambodia said it will “seriously” consider, prompted condemnation by asylum seeker advocates and human rights groups.

In comments released worldwide, Professor Evans said Mr Hun Sen, one of the world’s longest serving leaders and a former cadre of the murderous Khmer Rouge, has “ruled, for all practical purposes, as an autocrat, showing scant regard for rights of free expression and association and resorting to violent repression whenever he deemed it necessary to preserve his and his party’s position”.

“For far too long, Hun Sen and his colleagues have been getting away with violence, human rights abuses, corruption and media and electoral manipulation without serious internal or external challenge,” he said.

Professor Evans, chancellor of the Australian National University, also criticised the Abbott government for “falling over backward to avoid giving offence and too anxious to balance criticism with praise.”

He said Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop failed to deliver “robust critique” to Mr Hun Sen when she met him in Phnom Penh late last month,  “even though Australia’s high standing in Cambodia, not least owing to its historical role in the peace process, means that its voice certainly would have been listened to”.

“There is a place for quiet diplomacy that relies on genuine engagement to encourage sufficient behavioral change. But when states behave badly enough for long enough, loud megaphones can also be in order,” he said.

Ms Bishop declined to comment on the meeting.

When he was foreign minister the then senator Evans developed the United Nations peace plan for Cambodia that allowed the country to emerge from the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror, bombings, invasion and civil war.

The plan, which was hailed as a diplomatic triumph, helped install Mr Hun Sen in 1993 in what was supposed to be a multi-party democratic system.

But four years later Mr Hun Sen launched a bloody coup against his co-prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

Professor Evans, a former president of the International Crisis Group who is well connected among world leaders and opinion makers, said hopes were high that, after the UN plan and a huge peacekeeping operation, Cambodia had been set on a transformative path.

But he said the killing of five striking garment workers in Phnom Penh on January 3 repeated a pattern of political violence that had recurred too often at crucial moments in Cambodia’s history.

He described the level of corruption in Cambodia as “staggering”: global corruption monitor Transparency International ranks the country 160th out of 175 nations.

“There are stories, unverifiable but plausible, that 20 or more of Hun Sen’s closest associates have each amassed more than $1 billion through misappropriation of state assets, illegal economic activity, and favouritism in state procurement and contracting,” he said.

He said he had worked well with Mr Hun Sen in the past.

“I have resisted strong public criticism until now because I thought there was hope for both him and his government,” he said. “But their behaviour has now moved beyond the civilised pale. It is time for Cambodia’s political leaders to be named, shamed, investigated and sanctioned by the international community.”

This story Gareth Evans slams Abbott government's dealings with Cambodia first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.