November 16, 2012 -- Congresswoman Niki Tsongas released the following statement about President Obama's upcoming trip to Cambodia:
"When President Obama arrives in Cambodia early next week, he will become the first ever sitting U.S. President to visit that country.
"My own visit to Cambodia this past February opened my eyes to the harsh reality and budding hope that exists in this country still recovering from a past marred by unspeakable brutality. I visited Cambodia eight months ago to better understand the history that has shaped the culture for Cambodian-Americans and explore ways to further strengthen ties between our two countries. I was able to meet with Cambodian political, business and nonprofit leaders and discuss how our nations can learn from each other.
"The significance of the President's visit cannot be understated given the growing number of Cambodian-Americans, including the families of the nearly 20,000 Cambodians who immigrated to the Fifth District in the 1980s, many to the city of Lowell.
"In the early 1980s, following the Cambodian genocide, the U.S. admitted 110,000 Cambodian refugees, increasing the Cambodian-American population to 150,000. The vast majority of these individuals came to the United States after losing family members, loved ones, homes, and property during the terrible reign of the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia is still very much recovering from the horrific human rights violations and mass genocide that occurred during the 1970s.
"The country has made strides in recent decades to heal and grow, but Cambodia continues to face many of the same pitfalls that have traditionally plagued emerging and transitioning nations: a developing economy, government corruption and the denial of basic human rights. Too few Cambodians are able to fully participate in their democracy and elections are marked by fraudulent activities.
"If we are to build a lasting and productive relationship with Cambodia, we must see a meaningful shift toward universal human rights and a more transparent and accessible democratic process. The President's visit is an opportunity for the United States to encourage Cambodian officials to embrace individual rights and the right of Cambodians to peaceably assemble. Such progress will enable our mutually beneficial partnership with Cambodia to flourish further."