Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Chheang Vun yesterday accused the United States and four NGOs that run or fund programmes in Cambodia of working to foment “colour revolutions” in a detailed power-point presentation delivered at the National Assembly.
Titled “Colour Revolution and War Destruction”, the presentation was made to about 100 parliamentary staff members and aimed to encourage youth to “protect peace and stability”, according to Vun. Members of civil society, however, saw the presentation as an attempt to “pre-emptively criminalise” peaceful assembly and “delegitimise” human rights as the June 4 commune elections approach.
Aided by several slides, Vun accused “powerful countries” like the United States and their intelligence arms of pushing regime change through civil society actors in “small countries” that don’t follow US interests.
The lawmaker named NGOs the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and Freedom House and also referred to the Open Society Institute, an apparent reference to the Open Societies Foundation (OSF), an organisation founded by billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros.
“Those NGOs are created to provide funding to NGOs of countries that the USA has a purpose to topple down because those countries don’t serve international policy of the USA,” he said.
He also attacked “foreign-owned” media organisations in Cambodia, including The Phnom Penh Post and Cambodia Daily, Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, as “tools” to “damage” the country’s leaders’ reputation.
A colour revolution refers to mostly nonviolent citizen-led movements that have toppled regimes in former Soviet countries. As elections near, government figures have increasingly adopted the term to paint the opposition, civil society and critics as a threat to the country’s stability.
Though levelling such accusations at the US is not unusual for ruling party figures, the singling out of specific organisations is a step up in rhetoric, particularly in the context of recent threats by senior military figures to crack down on colour revolutions.
Freedom House, which supported activists working to modify a controversial proposed cybercrime bill, did not respond to request to comment by press time, nor did the NED, which indirectly funds a transparency programme in Cambodia, or the OSF, which has provided grants to the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR). NDI Country Director John Cavanaugh said his organisation’s work to “promote transparent governance and inclusive political participation” was “strictly non-partisan”, adding the group “partners with all major political parties”.
“Our work is focused on strengthening democratic processes, benefiting candidates and voters alike,” Cavanaugh said via email.
The sentiment was echoed by US embassy spokesman Jay Raman. “The US government is strictly non-partisan and works with both the ruling and opposition parties to support Cambodia’s democratic processes,” Raman said.
CCHR Executive Director Chak Sopheap said the government’s repeated “colour revolution” warnings sought to criminalise peaceful assembly. “Respect for fundamental freedoms, human rights and international law are not ‘foreign’ values, but are contained in Cambodia’s own constitution and domestic laws,” she said.
Additional reporting by Soth Koemsoeun