Cambodia's foreign ministry has lashed out at an Australian-Khmer lawyer and political activist after he claimed Cambodian rice exports to Australia were a violation of human rights.
It comes amid Australian efforts to pass a law to punish human rights offenders. The law was supported by Sawathey Ek, a Sydney-based lawyer and spokesperson for the Cambodian Action Group.
Sawathey Ek wrote to the Australian trade minister alleging that the export of Cambodian rice to Australia had violated human rights.
In the letter Sawathey calls on parliamentarians to launch an inquiry into tax concessions and benefits enjoyed by Cambodian rice importing companies and "the human rights abuse linked to rice import into Australia".
He also asked that Covid-19 packages provided to Cambodia be revoked and demanded the "Hun Sen regime to focus on getting the virus under control instead of spending time targeting innocent victims such as myself in Australia."
"It's a thuggish regime," he told AAP, "with no regard to the national interest as they target me, whilst Cambodia is in this pandemic."
But Cambodia's foreign ministry says Sawathey Ek's allegations are "baseless and invalid".
"The ministry condemns all unscrupulous people who attempt to harm the interests of Cambodian farmers through iniquitous actions and a distortion of facts," Cambodia 's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said in a statement.
The ministry also accused Sawathey Ek of fraudulently attempting to prevent the supply of rice from Cambodia into Australia.
It said it had worked closely with relevant ministries and institutions in Australia to allay any concerns.
"The Australian side solemnly confirmed that based on the research of the Australian authorities, the allegations made by Sawathey Ek were found baseless and invalid," it said.
Sawathey Ek has been a sharp critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen ever since the courts dissolved the main opposition party, enabling his long ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) to win every seat contested at elections in 2018.
He has argued that by accepting Cambodian exports, like rice, Australia was legitimising the CPP government.
It comes at a sensitive time in Cambodia as the United States has recently imposed trade sanctions against a Chinese company in Cambodia under its Magnitsky Act for human rights violations.
For similar reasons, the European Union withdrew some tariff-free trade perks in 2020.
Australian politicians have proposed their own Magnitsky-style law, following allegations of money laundering and corruption in Cambodia, angering Phnom Penh.
Cambodian exports have benefited from Australian aid programs over many years. It exported about 26,000 tonnes of milled rice to Australia in the first ten months of 2020, a 53 per cent increase on the same period a year earlier.
More than 80 per cent of Cambodia's 16 million people are farmers, growing rice as their main crop.
Australian Associated Press
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