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NGOs call on government to ‘reopen space for civil society’

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Activists and NGO members march in 2015 to protest against the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations. Heng Chivoan

NGOs call on government to ‘reopen space for civil society’

NGOs are requesting the government reopen the space for civil society in the Kingdom. They want all conditions removed and not to be smeared with accusations of being “involved in a colour revolution”.

In early November, the Ministry of Interior created a working group to meet with and address the concerns of NGOs and civil society.

But a meeting may not take place this year, said Bun Hun, the working group team leader.

“We already have a plan and we met with members of civil society on June 21. We had a forum presided over by [Minister of Interior] Sar Kheng."

“To make it sustainable, we have formed this working group which the government created with thorough consideration [for NGOs],” he told The Post recently.

Soeung Saroeun, the executive director of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC), a membership organisation for local and international NGOs in the Kingdom, said there were currently no plans for a meeting between the Ministry of Interior and NGOs.

He said the NGOs had already raised their concerns with the government.

“On June 21, we presented a seven-point recommendation to the government, such as requesting two meetings per year with them, creating a working group with NGOs and to stop smearing NGOs with being involved with a political party or a colour revolution,” he said.

Adhoc senior human rights investigator Soeung Sen Karuna said he would request the government to reopen the space for NGOs to carry out their activities without conditions.

Stop ‘accusations’

“Freedom of association, mobilisation, free speech … we don’t want to have conditions on these freedoms, which restrict us and cause difficulties in our work."

“We should not have to report or inform [the government] because we have our mandate to follow,” he said.

Karuna said he preferred to return to the time when there wasn’t a government working group.

“After [the NGOs] were restricted, we saw accusations that we are [involved with a] colour revolution group [that is] behind the opposition party, and [the government] wrote a ‘white book’ at the Council of Ministers and let the media attack us,” he claimed.

He said NGOs wanted the government “to [stop such] accusations and let NGOs carry out their activities without discrimination from the authorities”.

The creation of the working group, Karuna said, was positive but unnecessary if space was reopened for civil society organisations.

He said NGOs working in the field of human rights and democracy faced greater challenges than those involved with development.

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