The interim representative of the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia met yesterday with the head of the Cambodian government’s rights body, voicing concerns about the threatened closure of a prominent outspoken local NGO.
Kata Orn, a spokesperson for the government’s Cambodian Human Rights Committee, said President Keo Remy met with Simon Walker, the newly appointed interim chairman of the UN body at the committee’s headquarters in Phnom Penh.
During the 40-minute meeting, Walker raised concerns about the investigation against the Cambodian Center for Human Rights for allegedly serving foreign interests under the guise of a local NGO.
Last week, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the organisation “must close”, and ordered the Interior Ministry to investigate.
Walker, Orn said, had stressed that CCHR and OHCHR had worked together in the past. Orn added that authorities hadn’t finished investigating the NGO and that CCHR could “operate as normal” if no proof for the allegations were found.
“But if the authority investigates and finds that the centre is involved with the problems like the accusation [says], [shutting them] is an implementation of the law,” he said.
CCHR Executive Director Chak Sopheap said yesterday that the organisation had not yet received any notice from the Interior Ministry.
In a statement yesterday, Walker said the meeting was “simply a courtesy first meeting” after his arrival in the country two months ago, and added that the two “discussed a whole range of issues of mutual interest, including cooperation with civil society such as CCHR”.
Meanwhile, the human rights network IFEX, a coalition of 119 organisations worldwide, “strongly and unequivocally” condemned the threats against CCHR on Tuesday.
“The accusations . . . are part of a broad and insidious global trend of discrediting the legitimate work of groups promoting freedom of expression for all, often through the use of laws designed to limit, rather than enable, space for civil society to flourish,” IFEX Executive Director Annie Game is quoted as saying.
“The closure of such a principled and dedicated group as CCHR would be devastating for the safeguarding of Cambodians’ rights . . . and would irrevocably add to the climate of censorship that has taken hold.”
A statement from Amnesty International situated the threats in “a widespread and relentless onslaught against civil society” in Cambodia.
“Threats of closure of an association aimed at silencing yet another independent, peaceful voice dedicated to defending human rights will have a chilling effect on the exercise of human rights,” the statement reads.