Inside Stories

Lowell Legislators Push Free & Fair Elections in Cambodia

LOWELL – State Senator Ed Kennedy testified alongside State Representative Vanna Howard before the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs in support of Senate Bill 2326 and House Bill 3507. Both Bills are Resolutions condemning political oppression and encouraging free and fair elections in Cambodia. Senate Bill 2326 was filed by Senator Kennedy while House Bill 3507 was filed by State Representative Vanna Howard.

Signed on October 23, 1991, the Paris Peace Accords sought to bring democracy to Cambodia following the Khmer Rouge genocide from 1975-1979, and subsequent twelve year-long civil war. Nineteen nations signed this international agreement seeking to resolve political conflict and turmoil in Cambodia by setting forth the right to self-determination of its people through free and fair elections.  Significant expenditures in the form of international aid have been made in order to promote a pluralistic, multi-party democratic system in Cambodia.

“Although elections have been held in Cambodia over the past 23 years—international observers agree they have been far from free and fair,” said Senator Kennedy (D-Lowell) before the Joint Committee.

Since 1991, the government of Cambodia has engaged in oppressive tactics aimed at limiting democratic expression, including the restriction of its media environment by ordering radio stations to cease operations and by arresting journalists.  Leading opposition parties have also been dissolved and opposition party leaders have been arrested or exiled in an effort to repress viable political challenges.

“What we all want, whether you live here in Lowell, or abroad, is for Cambodia to be a prosperous, democratic, and independent country where all voices are heard. Cambodian people should be allowed to exercise their voice and choice in shaping the future of their country and not compromising the true spirit of the country’s constitution.  It is my hope Cambodia will restore the multi-party system in democracy, reverse the convictions of government critics, and allow independent media outlets to resume immediately without any interference. Free and fair elections are vital components of a democratic state in the protection of the liberty and human rights of its citizens. That’s the true definition of democracy.” Said State Representative Howard (D-Lowell) before the Joint Committee.

Senator Kennedy initially filed this legislation during his first term as State Senator in response to the 2018 Cambodian election—the first in Cambodia following the dissolution of the opposition. That year, Senator Kennedy was a member of the Lowell City Council that voted unanimously on a resolution recognizing the election as fraudulent. In the years since this legislation was first pursued, the government of Cambodia has held other sham elections, most recently last summer.

In addition to the testimonies of Senator Kennedy and Representative Howard, State Representative Rodney Elliott also testified before the Joint Committee. “I have cosponsored this bill as I have personally traveled at my own expense to the remote villages of Cambodia to witness the oppression and intimidation tactics to prevent free and fair elections. It is my hope that this resolution passes to implement the United Nations recommendations to promote democracy and prevent further erosion of human rights,” said Representative Elliott (D-Lowell).

Members of Cambodian diaspora and Cambodian community in Lowell, like Lowell School Committee Member and Senator Kennedy’s District Director Dominik Lay also made their way to Beacon Hill to testify. “Cambodia is ruled by a Communist Party, and I would like to ask that we give hope to those that have the courage to stand up for Democracy and for what is right and what is fair” Mr. Lay said in his testimony.

This issue has widespread support in the City of Lowell, which is home to the second largest Cambodian American population in the United States and has bipartisan support nationally. Congresswoman Lori Trahan of Lowell has co-sponsored bipartisan legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to direct the President to impose sanctions on Cambodian officials who are responsible for anti-democratic actions and human rights violations. Additionally, United States Senator Edward J. Markey has joined other federal lawmakers from both parties in announcing a resolution commemorating the landmark Cambodia Paris Peace Agreements.

“The Resolutions filed by Representative Howard, and I would send a message to our federal partners and Massachusetts constituents, particularly those of Cambodian American descent, that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts stands with them in opposition to political oppression and joins with them in the hope that free and fair elections will finally arrive in Cambodia as was promised way back in 1991,” said Senator Kennedy.

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