Over 1,000 human rights protesters gathered at the Sunnylands retreat in Rancho Mirage on Monday, where President Barack Obama has been hosting the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations ) summit, to oppose Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s 35-year dictatorial rule.
The summit, which runs through Tuesday, focuses on counterterrorism, maritime security and regional and economic trade issues, with a specific emphasis on implementing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement made among twelve Pacific Rim countries.
However, human rights activists oppose the TPP.
“We believe that this trade deal, it’s just another tool that allows these dictators to continue what they’re doing,” Cambodia-America Alliance’s Vice President Veansna Roeun told Southern California Public Radio. He said the deal will allow for Sen to continue down the same path.
Roeun said the deal embodies bad politics and bad economics. “I think it’s irresponsible, I think it’s reckless when you want to do business with countries that are not up to par, as far as labor rights and working conditions go, especially with the institutionalized corruption that exists in a lot of these countries. [Sen] is going to pad his pocket, he’s going to increase his security forces, and he’s just going to use that security force to oppress the people.”
Protesters reportedly flew in from all over the country, including from neighboring Canada, to participate in the rally against Sen’s rule.
In spite of a 2008 law introduced by the Cambodian National Assembly to suppress human trafficking, Cambodia remains a source, transit, and destination country for the crime and has a problem with the child sex trade with girls as young as five being sold off to pimps.
According to several human rights organizations, 1.2 million children are trafficked each year.
Additionally, the Global Slavery Index ranks Cambodia number 14 in the world for modern slavery. Iraq is just ahead of Cambodia, in 13th place, with 350,000 people trapped in the trade.
Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz.