Update: Cambodia and Myanmar diasporas Held protest in Washington D.C. during the US-ASEAN Summit

Thursday, May 12 –Cambodia and Myanmar diasporas held ASEAN People’s Summit Rally in Washington D.C., in parallel to the US-ASEAN Summit, to promote human rights and democracy, and to denounce autocracy in ASEAN countries.

An estimate of 400 people came to the rally, include some from Lowell, Massachusetts. Prime Minister Hun Sen reportedly also had a larger number of Cambodian fans to receive his visit to counter the protest. Remarkable, one man was able to get close enough and threw one shoe at the Prime Minister went viral on social media during his visit.

The rally titled “Democracy not Autocracy in ASEAN” is the follow-up to an open letter that the Cambodia and Myanmar diaspora groups sent to President Joe Biden on January 21st, 2022, and a second letter that followed on May 1st, 2022. They called on the U.S. government and world leaders to take concrete and meaningful actions towards promoting genuine democracy and respect for human rights in ASEAN, and to urge all our allies in Asia and the Pacific to do the same, particularly in Cambodia and Myanmar.

Khun Khit, Cambodian American CNRP activist delivers petition to the State Department. Photo supplied.
Mu Sochua, Deputy Vice President of CNRP

“We’re calling on the U.S. government and the world leaders to deny the legitimacy of authoritarian regimes, especially Hun Sen’s regime in Cambodia, by signaling that the results of the upcoming 2022 and 2023 elections in Cambodia will not be recognized until all dissolved opposition parties are restored unconditionally, meaningful systemic change are implemented, and free and fair elections are held under international monitoring,” said Mu Sochua, Deputy Vice President of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) who is currently living in exile in the U.S.
CNRP was the main opposition party before the Cambodian Supreme Court banned it, in what amounted to a judicially facilitated coup in 2017. Its 55 elected parliament members and 5,007 commune councilors were barred from participating in the government and most of their seats assigned to the ruling party. Prime Minister Hun Sen has remained in power on an uncontested basis for over 37 years through systematic suppression of human rights, democracy, kept the political opposition under tight control and limited free speech and the free press.

Photo captures a shoe was being thrown at Prime Minister Hun Sen during his visit at the US- ASEAN Special Submit in Washington D.C.

As chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Mr. Hun Sen’s lack of respect for the rule of law and human rights, has caused further division and deterioration of democracy within ASEAN.

Myanmar is currently facing the worst humanitarian crisis in its history after the military launched a coup against the democratically elected government in Myanmar on February 1 of last year. The country is in a state of war. Over 1 million people have been displaced from their homes, schools and transportation are shutdown, driving the economy to the brink of collapse.

“We welcome conceptually – as a member state of ASEAN, we want ASEAN to be able to help resolve all crises that the people are facing in our country. In principle, we welcome the positive approaches of the ASEAN leadership, but they have to be very practical. They also have to call for the Myanmar people’s freedom to express their will peacefully. Freedom of association and freedom of the press must be granted before the dialogue process they are calling for, can happen”, said U Bo Hla Tint, the Ambassador of Myanmar’s National Unity Government to ASEAN.

“We further ask the U.S. government and the world leaders to declare support for and diplomatically recognize the rightfully elected people’s government, the National Unity Government of Myanmar (NUG), and the democratically elected representatives of Myanmar, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH). The military junta in Myanmar should be prevented from gaining any form of legitimacy having seized power through force of arms”, states James Shwe, one of the rally organizers.

The Cambodia-Myanmar diasporas are also asking the United States government to impose an immediate arms embargo on the Myanmar junta and the Hun Sen regime, curtail their electronic surveillance and communications capabilities, place economic sanctions on any company, financial institution, or country that assist the Myanmar junta and the Hun Sen regime in evading economic sanctions and arms embargoes. They also call on China to immediately suspend their political recognition of the illegal Myanmar military regime, and instead to support and engage officially with the representatives of the National Unity Government (NUG) of Myanmar.

Tung Yap, Executive Director of Cambodian Americans for Human Rights and Democracy bases in Washington D.C.

“America is the beacon of democracy. We must not compromise our principles with the autocrats. Americans must not allow them to trample human rights and persecute freedom loving people who look up to America. The US-ASEAN Summit is an opportunity to strengthen our values”, said Tung Yap of the Cambodian Americans for Human Rights and Democracy.

The 10th ASEAN-U.S. Summit is scheduled to be held in November 2022 in Cambodia.