The Cambodian Foreign Ministry attacked an Australian-Khmer lawyer and political activist after alleging Cambodian travel exports to Australia were a human rights violation.
It comes amid Australian efforts to pass a law punishing human rights violators. The law was supported by Sawathey Ek, a Sydney-based attorney and spokesman for the Cambodian Action Group.
Sawathey Ek wrote to the Australian Minister of Commerce that exporting Cambodian rice to Australia had violated human rights.
In the letter, Sawathey called on MPs to open an investigation into tax breaks and tax benefits of Cambodian rice importers and “the human rights abuses related to rice imports into Australia”.
He also called for the revocation of Covid-19 packages made available to Cambodia and called for the “Hun Sen regime” to focus on getting the virus under control rather than spending time targeting innocent victims like me to attack in Australia “.
“It’s a sloppy regime,” he told AAP, “regardless of the national interest they have against me while Cambodia is in this pandemic.”
However, the Cambodian Foreign Ministry says Sawathey Ek’s allegations are “unfounded and invalid”.
“The ministry condemns all unscrupulous people who try to harm the interests of Cambodian farmers through abusive acts and falsification of facts,” said a statement from the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
The ministry also accused Sawathey Ek of fraudulently attempting to prevent the delivery of rice from Cambodia to Australia.
It said it worked closely with relevant government departments and institutions in Australia to address any concerns.
“The Australian side solemnly confirmed that Sawathey Ek’s allegations, based on investigations by the Australian authorities, were unfounded and invalid,” it said.
Sawathey Ek has been a harsh critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen since the courts disbanded the main opposition party, allowing his long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win every seat contested in the 2018 election.
He has argued that by accepting Cambodian exports like rice, Australia legitimized the CPP government.
It comes at a delicate time in Cambodia as the United States recently imposed trade sanctions on a Chinese company in Cambodia under its Magnitsky Law for human rights abuses.
For similar reasons, the European Union withdrew some duty-free trade benefits in 2020.
Australian politicians have proposed a Magnitsky-style law of their own following allegations of money laundering and corruption in Cambodia angering Phnom Penh.
Cambodian exports have benefited from Australian aid programs for many years. Around 26,000 tons of ground rice were exported to Australia in the first ten months of 2020, an increase of 53 percent over the same period last year.
More than 80 percent of Cambodia’s 16 million people are farmers and their main crop is rice.