Sweden has drawn a line with Cambodia and announced on Friday a need to focus on human rights, democracy and the rule of law starting in July 2021.
The Swedish embassy said in a press release the same day that the strategic shift is in line with the country’s new goals of cooperation in Asia and the Pacific region.
“This means that Sweden’s bilateral strategy for Cambodia will be phased out to end by July 1, 2021,” the embassy wrote.
The embassy said democracy, respect for human rights – including freedom of speech – and the possibility of civil society and the media operating freely have been severely restricted in Cambodia in recent years.
The Swedish government considers it necessary to focus cooperation on creating different, more democratic development in Cambodia.
Swedish International Development Cooperation Minister Peter Eriksson said in a statement that the democratic space in Cambodia has declined significantly, making it difficult to continue comprehensive and close cooperation.
“We will continue to support civil society, human rights defenders and democracy advocates in Cambodia. Sweden stands up for the principles of democracy and speaks out when they are undermined,” Eriksson said.
The press release said Sweden’s development assistance to Cambodia last year, based on the bilateral development cooperation strategy, amounted to about $24 million in grants.
The Embassy website states that the grants are available to Cambodia in the areas of governance democracy and human rights, education, environment and climate, infrastructure, citizens’ health, and reproductive health and other areas.
The Post couldn’t contact the embassy for further comment on Sunday about the shift in direction.
However, Cambodian officials said they welcomed the embassy’s press release which is focused on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
“This is the donor’s right, and in cooperation, the donor always raises the point they want. However, we all think that democracy in Cambodia is a principle we have implemented and are committed to in the Constitution,” said government spokesman Phay Siphan.
Siphan said in Cambodia, during every election, there is always a complaint from the opposition parties about the election.
He said what Sweden can do with political parties in Cambodia is strengthen the competitive attitude and the attitude of participating in development and recognising election results,” he said.
Cambodia Human Rights Committee (CHRC) spokesman Chin Malin said on Sunday that Sweden had provided assistance to Cambodia based on human rights and democracy last year.
“Sometimes there is a consensus and disagreement regarding democracy,” he said, adding that through the discussion and talks, the two sides had a great deal of understanding on the different views and assessments.
Malin said Cambodia would continue to cooperate with Sweden through dialogue to better understand each other. However, he said, in his research, funding for civil society organisations mostly failed to promote human rights and democracy.
“This would seem to encourage force and weapons on civil society in a strategy of confrontation. A strategy that is more successful is the cooperative and complementary strategy,” he said.