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European Parliament rep chides government ‘attacks’ on NGOs

The Chair of Subcommittee on Human Rights Barbara Lochbihler speaks to the press at the EU headquarters in Brussels in 2014. John Thys/AFP
The Chair of Subcommittee on Human Rights Barbara Lochbihler speaks to the press at the EU headquarters in Brussels in 2014. John Thys/AFP

European Parliament rep chides government ‘attacks’ on NGOs

A senior European Parliament representative expressed concern about pre-election intimidation in Cambodia during a visit to the Kingdom, and said the European Union would watch Cambodia “closely” until the 2018 national elections.

Barbara Lochbihler, vice chair for the European Parliament’s Human Rights Committee, said during an unofficial visit to the region that she was “particularly concerned that the work of highly qualified employees of human rights organisations is often verbally attacked by the government for allegedly being biased, which isn’t true”.

She said that despite an overall smooth election day on Sunday, remarks such as those on June 1 from the Ministry of Interior stating that they would investigate NGOs including rights groups Licadho and Adhoc for allegedly supporting the opposition was “unacceptable” and negatively impacted the pre-election climate.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan shot back yesterday, saying the government had “proof” some NGOs were supporting the opposition and “cheated the public by hiding their own political identity”.

If the NGOs ignored his “warning”, he said, the matter could be taken to court.

“I’m not going to release that [proof] to the public,” he said. Asked why he wouldn’t do so, he told a reporter to “shut up” before hanging up the phone.

Naly Pilorge, deputy director for advocacy at Licadho, rejected the allegations.

“We support and assist people and communities who are victims of human rights abuses or victimised by state institutions regardless of their gender or ethnicity or their political beliefs or their ages,” she said.

“We are willing to meet government or court officials if they wish clarifications.”

Lochbihler also criticised the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations, which she said did not meet international standards for civil society freedoms.

Lochbihler said the European Parliament was in the process of collecting information about human rights violations in Cambodia and would push for their consideration in United Nations resolutions or the potential cancellation of preferred trade agreements between Cambodia and the EU.

According to Lochbihler, these negotiations were envisaged for the first half of 2018 before upcoming national elections.

“We, the European Union, will keep an eye on Cambodia until the 2018 elections,” she said.

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