U.S. move to ban top Cambodian officials exposes failure of Europe, Australia and Japan to get tough on corruption
Anti-corruption NGO Global Witness today welcomed the news that the United States government has endorsed travel sanctions on top Cambodian officials, and called on other countries to follow suit. Despite giving large amounts of development aid to Cambodia, other countries in Europe, such as the UK, France and Germany, as well as Japan and Australia, have failed to take tough action in response to reports of high-level institutional corruption in Cambodia.
This unprecedented move by the U.S. became official with the passing into law of the 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which determines funding for U.S. overseas assistance. The Act requires the U.S. Secretary of State to keep a running list of foreign government officials and their family members who have been involved in corruption relating to the extraction of natural resources in their countries. Individuals on this list will be ineligible for admission to the United States. It also specifically urges the Bush administration to prohibit corrupt officials identified in the Global Witness report ‘Cambodia’s Family Trees’ from entering the United States and calls on other western and Asian countries to impose similar restrictions.
When implemented, the proposed U.S. ban will affect senior Cambodian ministers, top-ranking generals and others. It is a direct response to Global Witness’ exposure of institutional corruption and asset-stripping at the highest echelons of Cambodia’s government. ‘Cambodia’s Family Trees’, published in June 2007, details how a network of timber barons with familial or business links to Prime Minister Hun Sen, his wife, and other senior officials, are looting the country’s forests with impunity. Members of this group are heavily implicated in cases of kidnapping and attempted murder. The report also presents evidence of corruption by senior officials and the smuggling activities of elite military units controlled by the prime minister.
“To ban top Cambodian officials from the United States not only means that those individuals are no longer free to visit relatives or go shopping in the streets of New York or Los Angeles: it is also a damning indictment of the way state power in Cambodia is exercised,” said Global Witness Director Simon Taylor.
“It sends a clear message that the exploitation of Cambodia’s natural resources by a small group of powerful individuals at the expense of the country’s poor is unacceptable and fundamentally undermines development and good governance.”
The U.S. legislature’s response contrasts sharply with that of other donors. Despite the Cambodian government consistently reneging on commitments to strengthen governance and uphold human rights, Cambodia’s donors continue to pledge more money without seeing tangible actions to combat corruption and impunity. In 2007 – just weeks after the launch of ‘Cambodia’s Family Trees’ – Cambodia’s donors pledged a record US$689 million in development aid: a rise of 15% on the previous year.
“Given the insipid response from Cambodia’s donor community, it is a huge relief to see the U.S. legislature recognise the problem and take a stronger line,” said Taylor. “It is now up to others who profess an interest in Cambodia’s development to adopt similar measures. Only with tough action such as this will we begin to reverse this process of state looting and hold those responsible accountable.”
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(1) Global Witness exposes the corrupt exploitation of natural resources and international trade systems, to drive campaigns that end impunity, resource-linked conflict, and human rights and environmental abuses. Global Witness was co-nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for its leading work on ‘conflict diamonds' and awarded the 2007 Commitment to Development Ideas in Action Award, sponsored jointly by Washington DC based Center for Global Development and Foreign Policy magazine.
(2) The report ‘Cambodia's Family Trees' can be downloaded from
(3) The Consolidated Appropriations Act 2008 was signed into law on December 26 2007 by United States President George W. Bush. It can be downloaded from
(4) The provisions relating to Cambodia in the Consolidated Appropriations Act can be found in the accompanying Division J report , which provides additional information on the implementation of the Act. The Division J report endorses the language on Cambodia found within the 2008 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill. This contained the following text: “The Committee urges the administration to exercise Presidential Proclamation 7750 [the anti-Kleptocracy Initiative travel ban] to prohibit corrupt Cambodian officials identified in the June 2007 Global Witness report entitled “Cambodia’s Family Trees: Illegal Logging and the Stripping of Public Assets by Cambodia’s Elite” from entering the United States. The Committee encourages other developed countries, particularly in Europe and Asia, to implement similar restrictions.”
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