Cambodia and Thailand go after foreign fugitives

Photo: CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Cambodia and Thailand look set to cooperate to bring “foreign fugitives” to justice. By doing so, they stand accused of illegal behaviour themselves.


Cambodia and Thailand are pushing to bring criminals hiding abroad to justice. They appear to have agreed about deporting so-called “foreign fugitives”. Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) members will need to hide elsewhere. So too will vocal critics of the Thai monarchy.

Relations between Cambodia and Thailand have not always been cordial. As recently as 2011, the two countries clashed on their border. More recently, the two countries have enjoyed better relations. This collaboration could mark a new era of cooperation.

Both countries share reasons for targeting exiles

There are several reasons why both countries are keen on this move. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has already wiped out his political opponents. By bringing them back to Cambodia, he would be able to stop them mounting support abroad.

Hun Sen and his Thai counterpart, Prayuth Chan-Ocha, operate along similar lines. Both have carried out extensive campaigns to entrench themselves and limit dissent. They share a mutual desire to neutralise their opponents. They cannot do this unless they bring their opponents under their control.

Changes to the law mean that Thailand can now justify pursuing those accused of lèse majesté in Cambodia

A country cannot extradite somebody unless the same crime exists in both countries. It is why Thailand’s attempt to cut a similar deal with Laos failed. The junta in Thailand can take advantage of Cambodia’s new lèse majesté law. It can now pursue critics of the monarchy who crossed the border to escape prosecution.

The Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM) believe Hun Sen is trying to destroy them. The CNRM comprises ex-CNRP members trying to fight the PM from abroad. CNRP member Kong Meas claimed Hun Sen designed the collaboration to shut the CNRP down. He believes Hun Sen will use it to “persecute” party officials.

Exiled criminals are now in danger, and the UN cannot guarantee their safety

Cambodia has already proved it will show refugees no mercy. Earlier this year, Cambodia extradited Sam Sokha and jailed her for two years. She had thrown her shoe at a Cambodian People’s Party billboard. She had UN refugee status, but it counted for nothing.

Those now in danger include ‘Red Shirt’ dissidents such as Jakrapob Penkair.  Several Thais fled to Cambodia following the 2014 coup.

Sources: Asia Times, Radio Free Asia, The Diplomat

Some exiles have heeded the warnings. They left Southeast Asia, heading to Australia and New Zealand. Others have been unable to do so. They may seek UN refugee status. The UN has a limited capacity to get refugees away from danger.

Cambodia and Thailand risk alienation even though the deal may strengthen their relationship

Hun Sen and Prayuth feel collaboration will help them enhance their holds on power. However, that could damage their international standing and even hinder their economies. The deal would contravene both international and domestic law. Thailand risks harming its good relations with the West by putting it into practice.

Hun Sen has already alienated former allies with his drive to remove his opponents. He is unlikely to worry about intimidation, but the move could have impacts in other areas.

Thousands of Cambodian migrant workers recently left Thailand in line with new regulations. Those that remained are now deemed illegal and face prosecution. The threat of forced deportation may dissuade others from seeking work abroad. As a result, trade and tourism between the two countries may drop. It is possible that the West could impose further sanctions. This potential action could harm both countries.

Rights groups opposed the move. Activists criticised both Cambodia and Thailand. They include Dy The Hoya from the CENTRAL rights group. He warned that anybody criticising the government would face severe challenges. He urged the government to define what it is trying to achieve in clear terms.

In January, Amnesty International urged Thailand against deporting refugees from Cambodia and Vietnam. It looks as if Thailand will ignore those appeals.

The net is closing in on the exiles as Cambodia, Thailand continue their clampdowns

Those who stood up to the regimes in Cambodia and Thailand knew they risked prosecution. That is why they left in the first place and planned not to come back. The net is now closing in on them.

The ambitions of Hun Sen and Prayuth are clear. For them, eliminating and punishing any opposition to their rule is paramount. Both look set to defy domestic and international law to get their way.

Creating an “authoritarian alliance” signals an upturn in Cambodia and Thailand relations. They stand together, united against accountability, democracy and transparency.