Global Witness slammed the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Wednesday for allowing Prime Minister Hun Sen to host an event at this year’s meeting, accusing it of providing “a platform for brutal tyrants to find new international business partners”.
In a release, the group urged the WEF to turn away Hun Sen and other “despots”, based on human rights violations. The group also repeated claims from their 2016 investigation that Hun Sen and his family “own or control . . . most of Cambodia’s most lucrative industries”.
The WEF meeting is an annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland, of business leaders, economists and political leaders to discuss various world issues.
“The Davos summit claims to be ‘committed to improving the state of the world’. If this is true, it should close its doors to despots like Hun Sen,” said Global Witness representative Alice Harrison in the press release.
In response, government spokesman Phay Siphan took to Facebook yesterday, calling Global Witness “a devil NGO” and praising Hun Sen’s “international and dynamic leadership”.
Justin Wood, head of the WEF’s Asia-Pacific department, said Harrison’s characterisation of his organisation was “inaccurate”.
“We are a platform that brings together all stakeholders in society to work collectively on big challenges,” he said via email yesterday. Wood also explained that the WEF’s partnership with the Cambodian government allowed his organisation to work on projects that benefit all Cambodians, such as infrastructure development.
Later this year, Cambodia will host the WEF’s ASEAN summit, something that Wan-Hea Lee, the UN’s human rights representative in Cambodia, said could help draw attention to rights issues in the business sector. “Corruption, in particular, has been identified as a key impediment to the ease of doing business in Cambodia. The conference could serve to encourage improvements in this area.”
Opposition party spokesman, Yim Sovann, also accused the ruling party of human rights violations, but he stopped short of echoing Global Witness’s call for a ban on participating in the WEF. “We want to attract good investors to Cambodia,” he acknowledged yesterday.
“[The WEF] should advise him to improve the political and business environment.”
Harrison said she supported efforts to develop Cambodia but warned that funds are often misused. “We would urge WEF to conduct thorough checks to ensure that their support is genuinely helping the people who need it, and not enriching the country’s elites.”