A Cambodian woman takes a photo of riot police standing behind bard wire at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 1, 2014.
A Cambodian woman takes a photo of riot police standing behind bard wire at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 1, 2014.

WASHINGTON - U.S.-based Cambodian community activists are campaigning for a congressional resolution calling for human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Cambodia.

House Resolution 728, which was introduced by Congressmen Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) and Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) in May, needs 55 votes before it can be sent to the executive branch for action.

“This resolution is seeking co-sponsors from other U.S. congressmen,” Rany Lushenski, a member of Cambodian Americans for Human Rights and Democracy, told a gathering at Harvest Moon restaurant in Arlington, Virginia, last week. “Therefore, I’m asking you to call your congressmen to support the resolution HR 728 in order to have free elections in Cambodia.”

The resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges the Cambodian government to end human rights violations and calls on the government to respect press freedom, citizen’s rights to protest, freedom of assembly, and freedom of speech. It supports elections reform and free and fair elections in 2018 with the participation of international observers. It also calls for an end to charges against opposition politicians.

Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.), and Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), have now co-sponsored the resolution.

Lobbying for the resolution

Prom Saonora, honorary president of the Cambodia-America Alliance (CAA), is traveling from state to state and leveraging an online network to expand support for the resolution. However, he faces some challenges.

“The problem with our Khmer people is that they seldom meet their representatives,” Saonora told VOA Khmer. “They didn’t know that the Congress has a big say on aid; that’s why they have to contact the Congress if they want things done. They wanted to have a say on the resolution HR 728, but didn’t know how until CAA advised them.

“The most important thing is that people in Cambodia are now under pressure from the government who bend the law at will like an elastic band,” Saonora continued. “This is important. If we can change that, there will be peace and prosperity in Cambodia.”

Congressman Lowenthal also urged the Cambodian community to join his campaign. When nearly 200 Cambodians converged on a rally at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month, he emphasized the resolution's importance.

“I need the support of you to ask my fellow members in congress to co-sponsor this resolution,” he told the protesters. “The more support we have, the stronger our case in the House of Representatives to pass this resolution and to demonstrate that the United States strongly supports human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in Cambodia, which does not exist today.”

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Khmer Service.