Civil society organisations (CSOs) and hundreds of people from all walks of life met at a two-day “Cambodian citizens’ forum” in the capital to voice their concerns, hoping their issues will be addressed and included in national and regional policies.

The forum, themed “Protecting Citizens’ Space, Democracy and Human Rights for Equity and Justice in Cambodia”, was held on October 16-17, with more than 50 CSOs and over 400 people in attendance.

The forum was designed to gather inputs for the government and the regional bloc to address as Cambodia prepares to host the ASEAN Summit next month.

Seng Reasey, executive director of the NGO SILAKA and the organiser of the forum, told The Post on October 17 that the event was intended for a wide range of stakeholders to participate in discussions on human rights, peace, security, citizen space and business integrity in Cambodia.

She said environmental and trade issues, food security, a dignified life, social protection, decent work, safe migration and healthcare for all during the post-Covid-19 recovery period were also raised as topics for discussion.

“Challenges remain, which require attention and continue to be addressed. The concept in this discussion is not to impose blame on any party.

“But it is for creating an atmosphere that ensures everyone can come and listen to each other, know each other’s problems and understand the real situation of locals,” Reasey said.

With gaps in policy making and certain laws, Reasey said she wanted to see the government and other stakeholders in both the Kingdom and the region get full information on the problems and desires of the people taking part in the forum.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director at rights group LICADHO who participated in the forum, said the event was organised before the ASEAN Summit to gather input on various issues, provide solutions and give recommendations to the Cambodian government as well as the regional bloc.

“For the Cambodian government, we propose considering policies, mechanisms and solutions for people who have faced past challenges, such as in human rights, democracy, trade and agriculture issues. We also want the ASEAN governments to help find solutions,” he said.

Theng Savoeun, director of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC), said conferences such as this Cambodian Citizens’ Forum and ASEAN People’s Forum were important and necessary for informing leaders of issues.

“Whether it is the Cambodian government or ASEAN, they must accept the concerns and recommendations regarding the specific needs of the people in each country who are facing challenges in daily life.

“If the issues are accepted, it will show the responsibility of the governments of Cambodia and ASEAN,” he said.

If the current issues, such as human rights, democracy, assembly rights and land deputes, as well as those regarding the environment, trade and agriculture, were not addressed, it would represent a lack of responsibility from the 10 ASEAN governments, he added.

Sok Penh, executive director of the Coalition for Partnership in Democratic Development, said civil society groups would issue a joint statement outlining the position and needs of each sector after the two-day forum.

It was to be hoped that the Cambodian government and ASEAN would take the people’s requests into consideration and put in place plans to meet their specific needs, he added.

“I think what we have discussed will have an impact on policy makers, and we hope that the policy makers of each country will incorporate the issues of the people into the framework for implementation,” Penh said.

Yon Sophoan, a factory worker who participated in the forum, expressed satisfaction with the event, saying it was important that people like him had a chance to participate in expressing their views on the issues they were facing.

He said he also expected that the issues raised by the people in the forum would be considered and addressed, especially with the development of appropriate policies in response to them.

“What we are talking about, I am not 100 per cent sure they will be able to resolve it this time, but I believe that in the future the government will be able to,” Sophoan said.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan described the citizens’ forum as a mechanism put forward by ASEAN to provide opportunities for CSOs to participate.

However, he said mentions of the political space, human rights and the democratic space could affect the ASEAN principle of not interfering in the internal affairs of member countries.