It certainly was an overwhelming show of support for Sam Rainsy and his international endeavors to put pressure on the Cambodian government to allow him back into the country without threat of imprisonment for a dubious court sentence.
The explanations for the arrest warrant given by various government spokesmen are, of course rather ridiculous. This is a conflict between the opposition leader and the PM, not the Foreign Minister. Who are they trying to kid here? The excuses put forth are so transparent as to be laughable. Additionally and this is what the government officials seem to forget is that Cambodia is a signatory to a U. N. convention that prohibits double jeopardy. For those who don’t know what this is: if somebody has been tried in a court of law in a signatory’s country that person cannot be tried again in another signatory’s country for the same matter. Since Sam Rainsy prevailed in France the sentence in Cambodia which was passed later contravenes that convention and is illegal by international standards. Cambodia does not much care about international standards always citing its sovereignty. Cambodia, however, is not alone with this stance. Many other signatory countries to that convention disregard this and other U.N. conventions at will, most notably the United States – Guantanamo, torture, illegal wars (Iraq), come to mind. So it actually is no great surprise that Cambodia does the same thing, although one would wish that they used more erudite reasoning for their actions.
Colloquially speaking, one could say Sam Rainsy, on the other hand, has always been pushing the envelope. The Vietnam border issue is as trumped up as many of the government’s legal maneuvers against him. His outspoken racism is also clearly an incitement for possible riots. Common people may not fully understand the implications of how serious such matters are. It is surprising that his rhetoric hasn’t led to more serious clashes with the ethnic Vietnamese in the country. A look to Europe would show them what such rhetoric can lead to. Refugees are attacked because leaders of right wing groups encourage them with their hateful speeches. For a while he toned it down somewhat but the beatings of two fellow opposition MPs at the hands of thugs was enough for him to call the PM a dictator and fascist. Never mind that he later apologized for this. The opposition party clearly encouraged overseas Cambodians both in New York and in Paris to demonstrate against the PM on his visits there. Demonstrations in other countries are an expression of free speech and sanctioned by those countries’ constitutions but whether overseas Cambodians in greater numbers would really have cared about the PM's visit there is highly doubtful. New York has a minuscule Cambodian population. One could assume that they were bused in from Massachusetts. Although Paris surely has a larger Cambodian community they tend to live outside Paris where it is more affordable. Rents are sky-high in Paris. It stands to reason that many of them were encouraged to travel to the city. The government may have played the same game, but what’s right for the goose is right for the gander.
This all provoked the PM’s ire. He, never one to mince words, called Sam Rainsy the son of a traitor. Earlier he had called him the leader of thieves. The consequence of that ire was the sudden invocation of a past dormant court sentence and swift issuance of an arrest warrant. Sam Rainsy being Sam Rainsy chose not to return from a visit to Korea. He instead has been seeking international support in the Philippines and more significantly in Europe. Why he didn’t lobby the U. S. government or the Congress may have been due to the fact that the Asian-Pacific meeting was being held in Kuala Lumpur at that time and the U. S. president was in attendance. Barack Obama even shook hands with the PM and invited him, but along with all the other Asian heads of state too, to the U. S. next year.
In seeking international support he could obviously only turn to European countries. Those governments and the parliaments there had their hands full with the refugee crisis and how to cope with it. They obviously had no time for Sam Rainsy and his problems with the Cambodian PM.
The European Parliament, on the other hand, has always had an open ear for Sam Rainsy. He must have some influential proponents of his cause. That resolution had been prepared and was ready for a vote when he arrived in Strasbourg. But what effect will that resolution have?
It did contain a paragraph that the parliament would ask the European Commission, which is the executive branch, to suspend some $400 million in aid for the years until 2020. Most of that aid is for humanitarian and human rights efforts. EU member countries pledged around $1.8 billion from 2014 to 2019. The European Union is the largest partner in terms of aid for Cambodia. That aid, though, comes from individual European countries and is given by the national parliaments and governments, not by the European Commission.
As with all European Parliament resolutions concerning foreign policy they don’t carry much weight in the great scheme of things. This resolution on Cambodia is a very nice symbolic victory for Sam Rainsy but in the end it won’t achieve any of the goals set forth in it. Cambodia went through the motions and immediately protested vehemently again citing its sovereignty but will most surely just continue to ignore it.
Sam Rainsy also did not consider one significant factor in his international efforts. Europe is too busy with its own problems. The U. K. might even leave the E. U. which would weaken it considerably. The common European currency is in danger, as many economists see it, and the refugee crisis could actually be the beginning of the disintegration of the European Union, as some prominent European politicians, including Prime Ministers, see it. The Cambodian issue, if it were an issue there at all, is a non-issue.
The European Parliament does not even have the power to rein in wayward, for lack of a better word, nations like Hungary and Poland, both members of the EU. Hungary recently stripped its Supreme Court of its powers, giving the prime minister almost absolute authority, and Poland just elected a new government that is about to repeat this. This is against the EU statutes but the European Parliament is powerless or unwilling to do anything about it. In the face of the current problems this might only hasten the split-up of the EU, which currently is in a precarious state.
As a consequence, Sam Rainsy achieved a victory but will still remain the Don Quixote in Cambodian politics fighting his war with the powers-that-be from his exile. And what’s new about that?