A ministry of Interior official yesterday joined with representatives from the European Union, NGOs and the private sector to champion the “strengthening of civil society”, even as the government continues to jail and surveil human rights defenders.
The Cooperation Committee for Cambodia yesterday launched its $1.5 million “Strengthening civil society for democratic and sustainable development” project, which is jointly funded by the EU and the nonprofit Bread for the World.
The Interior Ministry’s Ngan Chamroeun, who is also executive deputy head of the National Committee for Sub-National Democratic Development, spoke of the need for transparency in health and education at the local level, despite the national government being able to share “very little” funding.
Asked if government pressure – such as the Interior Ministry’s “observation” of civil society groups, and imprisonment of four Adhoc human rights defenders and an election official – fostered an “enabling environment”, as the project aimed to do, Chamroeun demurred.
“Our information that we receive, we think that it is reliable information, [shows] there are some irregularities in the performance of some NGOs,” he said, referring to groups that focus on democracy and human rights.
“What we try to do is [work] for a change in the environment and building trust among these stakeholders.”Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak yesterday confirmed the authorities were continuing to monitor rights groups Adhoc and Licadho.
“They must be neutral, and this is not a threat . . . A neutral organisation is an organisation that does not serve a political party or any group,” he said.
“Look at Adhoc, how many people have been in jail because of this [political scandal]? . . . And [Adhoc] shut the mouth of the witness, while the director has run away from the country,” he said, repeating allegations – long denied – that NGO workers bribed the purported mistress of opposition leader Kem Sokha.
Licadho’s Naly Pilorge questioned whether the ministry really wanted to learn the importance of a vibrant civil society.
“In light of all the growing threats against land communities, political activists, youths, monks, NGOs and journalists, I am surprised an MOI representative took part in the launching of a long term project to strengthen civil society,” she said.
EU Ambassador George Edgar said CSOs can provide services, develop policy and “help provide a channel for the concerns of vulnerable groups whose voices might otherwise not be heard”.
“I hope that this will be one of the areas on which the project will engage,” he said.