Massachusetts State Legislature Bill Condemning Political Oppression and Encouraging Free and Fair Election in Cambodia

BOSTON — Massachusetts’ Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs held a hearing on a bill condemning political oppression and encouraging free and fair election in Cambodia on Friday, January 7, 2022. The Bill S. 2406 is authored by State Senator Edward Kennedy, 1st Middlesex District and with the support of State Representative Vanna Howard from 17th Middlesex representing Lowell, home to the 2ndlargest Cambodian population living in the United States.

The hearing was chaired by Senator John Velis, Representative Paul McMurtry, and attended by members of the Committee on Veteran and Federal Affairs on January 7, 2022

In the 192 General Court (2021 – 2022), the bill S. 2406 calls on the Congress, the President, and Vice President of the United States to support and enact legislation imposing sanctions on the government of Cambodia in order to promote democracy and prevent the further erosion of human rights, including the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019 and the Cambodian Trade Act of 2019. A similar bill was passed in the United States Congress and is currently in the U.S Senate Foreign Affairs for review.

“This Resolution would simply send a message to our federal partners and our constituents, particularly those of Cambodian American descent, that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts stands with them in opposition to political oppression and joins in the hope for free and fair elections to finally arrive in Cambodia as was promised back in 1991,” Senator Kennedy testified at the opening of the hearing.


Sixteen Cambodian Americans registered to speak in support of the legislation. Namely, Dominik Lay, a Lowell resident and school committee member, was one of the speakers, Dr. Sophal Ear, Professor at the Arizona State University and several CNRP members testified. Soben Ung of Khmer Post USA also testified.

Soben Ung, co-founder and publisher of Khmer Post USA said “The calling for a free and fair election today has never been more important, as Cambodia is heading into a commune election in 2022 and another national election in 2023. The international community must not recognize this election without the CNRP participation.”

In the 2013 election, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was elected to 45% of the parliament seats. However, the CNRP president Mr. Kem Sokha was arrested, CNRP was dissolved ahead of the 2018 election, and over 5,000 CNRP commune councilors was forced out of work. Since then, Cambodia has become a one-party state.


Dominik Lay, an elected member of Lowell school committee said “I am here to echo the plea for help from Cambodian American living in Lowell and in Massachusetts, this bill is important to my constituents. About 1/3 of my constituents is made up of Asian Americans, most of them are Cambodian Americans like myself, who escaped from the killing, hunger, and war all of which conducted by the communist organization, as consequence we were fortunate to escape from the other communist country that entered Cambodia since the Vietnam War.”


“This resolution speaks for millions of Cambodian people who are victims of oppression,” said Lay.

Since 1991 Paris Peace Agreement, Prime Minister Hun Sen never conceded his power, despite having lost the UN-sponsored election in 1993. He maintained his power through a coup of his co-prime minister Prince Norodom Ranaridth in 1997 and the Cambodian people continue to be oppressed.

“The Cambodian Americans living in the commonwealth who have freedom would like to speak on behalf those who have been oppressed and are praying for help. They are praying for the people of Cambodia to live free and fair. Passing this bill would give the people in Cambodia a glimpse of hope and start answering my constituents’ prayer” said Lay.

Champa Pang, a CNRP from Lowell said, “we’re representing taxpayers, elders, Cambodians that are in asylums, and voters in support of this bill. We need to stop looking at the other way and ignoring his constant violations of voter rights”; referencing the US supports to Cambodia in education, economic, health, clearance of landmines, and governance for a total of over $338 millions between 2018-2021.

Hak Chai, a donut store owner and a resident of Long Beach, CA testified that he was charged with treason and incitement for simply supporting Mr. Sam Rainsy, the Acting President of CNRP who attempted to return to Cambodia in 2019. “I am just a mini freedom fighter for my brothers and sisters in Cambodia.” said Chai.

Tara Hong, an 18th Middlesex District of Lowell resident who emigrated to the United States 9 years ago said “the system of the government in my country needs to be addressed and it will not happen by sitting down and waiting for those government to change themselves to be a real democratic state. The longer we wait,” said Hong “the longer this type of government continue in Cambodia, the more innocent, bright people fighting for what is suitable for the country will continue getting killed.”

The 21 years old political science major at UMass Lowell urged, “By voting for this bill, State Senators and State Representatives, it will show our friends in congress a stronger support and for them to take it more seriously to push for a better change in Cambodia.”

Susie Chhuon, a resident of the 17th Middlesex District said “as a former candidate running for a municipality election in the city of Lowell, I know first-hand how important it is to have a free and fair election. In Cambodia, there is no free and fair election. The government is using scare tactics such as – if you’re speaking against the government, you’ll be put in jail, or you’ll be either physically and verbally threatened. As a constituent, and a former candidate, I know how important the election process is here and want to see the same for Cambodia, at least our support.”

Dr. Sophal Ear, Associate Dean for undergraduate programs in global development and tenure associate professor in the Thunderbird School of Global Management from Arizona State University said “this bill is incredibility important not just for the Cambodian Americans living in Massachusetts, but for Cambodian Americans living all over the United States.”

“Prime Minister Hun Sen has prevented all political oppositions, revoked labor rights, and fostered an environment of human rights abuses, the destruction of Cambodian democracy is nearly complete. The curtailment of freedom has been sharpened, the Prime Minister is even exporting his brand of reckless cowboy diplomacy by allying Cambodia with Myanmar’s ruthless generals by embracing them and demanding that Myanmar not be excluded from ASEAN meetings”.

“The people of the commonwealth in Massachusetts have invested in democratic reforms and human rights in Cambodia for decades,” said Dr. Ear and quoted from then U.S Secretary of State Cyrus Vance who testified before the U.S Senate Committee in 1979, “we are a nation of refugees, most of us can trace our presence here to the turmoil or oppression of another time or another place. Our nation has been immeasurably enriched by this continuing process, we will not turn our backs on our tradition, we must meet our commitments we have made to other nations and to those who are suffering and in doing so we will also be renewing commitments to our ideals. Our investment in Cambodia must not be liquidated by virtue of a morally bankrupt regime.”

“The S. 2406 reminds the authorities in Cambodia that the people of this great commonwealth want a return on their investment and will support the people of Cambodia in their pursuit of human rights, democracy, and freedom,” said Dr. Ear.

Rithy Uong, the first Cambodian American elected city councilor, served Lowell from 1999 – 2005 said “as CNRP President in North America where we have 50 branches trying to fight and restore democracy in Cambodia. This bill is an example for other states: human rights and democracy should be preserved and [must] prevail, it is also to show that we do not appreciate those Cambodians living in the United States but sympathize with the Hun Sen regime.”


Similar bill, the Cambodia Democracy and Human Rights Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate floor in August 2021 by Senators Edward Markey, Marco Rubio, and Dick Burbin.

“Some of the credits really belong to Lowell city councilor Vesna Nuon. I met with some of the CNRP members in the Highlands. I think it’s an important bill. It’s good for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, especially my district has very large Cambodian community in Lowell as well as in Lynn. We hope to have a favorable recommendation from the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs on February 2 and put it on the House’s floor to vote,” Senator Edward Kennedy told the Khmer Post USA.

To help get this bill passed, added Senator Kennedy “the members of Cambodian community are encouraged to send letters, and make telephone calls to their House of Representatives and Senators so they are aware of the issue.”