I thought that the Tom Lantos Commission hearing would remain a non-event outside overseas SRP-circles. (It is a rather obscure commission to begin with.) Was I mistaken!
None other than the State Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ouch Borith, made a statement during a press conference, in effect saying Ms. Mu Sochua made part of all this up. He said she did meet with Secretary Clinton but Ms. Clinton never promised anything. According to him the U. S. ambassador to Cambodia only confirmed that an unofficial meeting outside the office (whose?) took place, but Ms. Clinton did not reply to Ms. Mu Sochua’s request for a delegation to Cambodia. An embassy spokesman would only confirm that an unofficial brief meeting between the two had taken place, in other words, it was a photo op, at which Ms. Sochua had uttered her requests.
The VOA reports on the hearing that another U. S. Congressman said the following:
“I do not believe that holding a hearing that gives voice to the opposition party and excludes the ruling party is the way for us to proceed in affecting change in Cambodia. I also do not believe that any Commission should usurp the role of the US Department of State or the diplomatic relations we have established between our two countries.”
Sound reasonable to me.
So it’s not only the Cambodian government calling the hearing biased. Nevertheless, two members of the commission sent a letter to the U. S. ambassador to Cambodia requesting to keep them informed about the safety of the witnesses at the hearing. They asked her to monitor the fate of those individuals and keep them informed.
This may be a nice request but ambassadors usually report to the State Department. Additionally, what will they do if Ms. Sochua is indeed arrested? (This is looming on the horizon, after all. Ms. Sochua vowed she would rather go to prison than pay the fine imposed as a penalty. The appeal is still to be heard, but no one believes it will change the ruling of the lower court.)
No matter what these congressmen think of their ability to influence events, Cambodia is a sovereign nation. Most likely, the U. S. government won’t have any interest to actually interfere, regardless of whether or not they consider the whole affair an injustice. They might issue a letter of protest, which the ambassador will hand over to the Foreign Minister. But that’s about all that’s going to happen. It’s a delicate situation for the embassy to begin with, as Ms. Sochua is a U. S. citizen as well as a Cambodian national and an elected member of parliament in Cambodia. Normally, embassies provide counsel for people who broke the law in a foreign country, or are incarcerated. But in this case?
Meanwhile Ms. Sochua is traveling from one overseas Khmer hot spot to the next hailing her success at that hearing. The VOA reports this:
Mu Sochua, an opposition lawmaker who testified before US Congress Thursday, said her trip to the US had meant more attention to Cambodia’s rights issues and more monitoring of the situation by the US.
The US will work to end injustice in the court and other crackdowns, she said, as a guest on “Hello VOA” Monday, following talks with senior US officials.
“First, they will send a team of high-level delegates to clearly assess the situation in Cambodia. And second, they said aid must be attached to the respect of human rights. Third, they will pay close attention and they will monitor and take action to end the use of injustice in the courts to crack down on opposition members of parliament.”
“What I came to testify here for was not my personal interest, but the people’s interest.”
She was clearly playing to the SRP crowd at her gatherings. It is equally as clear that she is using that hearing for political purposes and, of course, for her and her party’s benefit in terms of fundraising purposes as well. If she, in fact, made those statements, and there is no reason to doubt the VOA, then she is either too full of herself, overestimating her influence, delusional, or she is just plainly misrepresenting the truth for political, and her party’s material, gain.
She clearly forgets that the U. S. is not the largest donor country; in effect, it is among the smaller donors (China and Japan by far outrank the U. S.) Consequently, the influence the U. S. can wield is of limited effect. If they were to curtail aid, China would just be more than happy to jump into the breach. However, the Cambodian government will not want to antagonize the U. S. That goes without saying. It will say to the U. S. that those complaints are blown out of proportion, and the U. S. will in the end just shuffle the paperwork aside. Certainly, I don’t think the U. S. government will go to extra lengths to straighten out internal judicial or human rights issues in any country, as examples with other countries have shown in the past. A lesson in realpolitik may be called for at the SRP leadership. Another fact not to overlook in the U. S.–Cambodian relationship is the U. S. view that Cambodia is a significant partner in combating transshipments of drugs destined for the U. S. and Europe, and in the fight against human trafficking. Cambodia also ranks higher than China or Vietnam in its labor standards. It still enjoys ‘Most Favored Nation’ status in the U. S.
So what to make of all this? To me it appears as an exercise in grandstanding. In the end she may find out she does not want to play the role of the political martyr, after all. Or how about this scenario: she loses the appeal, will be arrested, but writes a letter of apology to Hun Sen and then is swiftly pardoned by the King.
Post script: I believe that the lawsuit by Ms. Sochua and then the countersuit by the Prime Minister were unreasonable at best and outright ridiculous at worst. It certainly appears unfair to reject Ms. Sochua’s lawsuit but then render a guilty sentence in favor of the P.M. The Prime Minister would have been well advised to drop his lawsuit as well. It would have raised his stature, at least internationally and among human rights groups. Now his lawsuit is seen as revenge and as an attempt to silence critics, although Sam Rainsy doesn’t mince any words when it comes to criticizing the government. It only bolsters the impression that the government controls the judiciary. If he had been more forgiving, he could have used this more effectively to his political advantage and avoided all those accusations.