Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodian Institute of Human Rights to close

Cambodian Institute of Human Rights to close

Cambodian Institute of Human Rights to close

The Cambodian Institute of Human Rights (CIHR) will end ten years of operation and

close at the end of August due to lack of funds, executive director Kassie Neou confirmed

August 29.

The NGO lost the confidence of donors after an investigation earlier this year confirmed

widespread fraud of funds.

CIHR's problems became public earlier this year after both finance officer Nhim Sakal

and director of operations Steven Pak were suspended pending an investigation into

allegations of fraud.

Pol Ham, CIHR's deputy executive director, said Sakal was fired at the end of June

this year, and Pak resigned in July.

"The finance officer and all finance staff are responsible for the financial

mismanagement," Ham said.

Auditing firm Pricewater-houseCoopers' (PwC) investigation early in 2002 found evidence

that at least $200,000 of donor funds had been embezzled. It noted numerous instances

of falsified payment vouchers between December 2000 to November 2001, including double

charging for supplies, purchases without delivery, and false expenditure.

CIHR said it has started legal proceedings against Nhim Sakal for alleged fraud of

$226,000. Sakal had earlier accused Kassie and Steven Pak of colluding in the fraud,

a charge Kassie has continually denied.

"We are trying to get money back to our donors by suing Nhim Sakal - it is in

the courts now," Kassie said.

Eighty-two of CIHR's 102 staff, including all finance staff, had their contracts

terminated at the end of July due to lack of funds and only 20 staff remained through

August.

CIHR's major donors were the European Union, The Asia Foundation, and Forum SYD,

all of which suspended funding earlier this year. The organization had been running

recently on a small amount of funding provided by board member Jeffrey Gallup.

Kassie described the end of what was once a million dollar funded NGO, as a "terrible

loss to the country".

"It is very sad after ten years of operation that made a substantial contribution

to the development of human resources, democracy and the rule of law," he said.

"We are at a dead-end. We have no money to pay rent, no money for electricity

and bills. We have no choice but to fold, but it is not me who will close it down,

it is the board."

Dr Kao Kim Hourn, chairman of the new seven member CIHR board, said the members had

tried hard to "resuscitate" and restructure the NGO but had run out of

time. Kassie had informed the board that the institute had run out of funds.

"We hope the operation might just be suspended while we try to keep it alive,"

Dr Kao said. "It would be a waste to let it go after so much has been invested,

but if we can't get any funding we may have to suspend operations or close down."

Kassie said there was "some hope" the closure would not be permanent. "We

will try to find funds to re-open but for now we have no means to continue,"

he said. "We tried to appeal to our donors for at least some seed money, but

we haven't received any."

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