Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - NGOs defend right to aid rally

NGOs defend right to aid rally

CNRP supporters attend a rally in Phnom Penh last Saturday
CNRP supporters attend a rally in Phnom Penh last Saturday. Yesterday civil society groups reacted to the Ministry of Interior’s statement on rules of political neutrality. PHA LINA

NGOs defend right to aid rally

Civil society groups yesterday hit back at the government after a Ministry of Interior statement released on Wednesday warned NGOs that they would be breaking ministry protocols on political neutrality by “directly or indirectly” supporting an unnamed political party or its protests.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party has planned three days of ongoing demonstrations starting from Sunday and has invited NGOs to address the crowd if they wish.

A statement released yesterday by the “Situation Room” – a coalition of election monitors that will send a representative to speak about the election at the demonstrations – did not address the government warning directly, but outlined its rights in relation to the protest.

“[We] monitor and intervene for human rights violations and give first aid to people who are victims during any protest in Cambodia.… Strengthening democracy and basic rights is a core mission of civil society,” the statement reads.

It adds that 800 first-aid officers and an additional 800 monitors will be deployed for the upcoming demonstrations.

The government has long accused some NGOs of being politically one-sided due to overlap between civil society and opposition party criticisms of the ruling party.

A proposed draft law to regulate NGOs was shelved in late 2011 after outcry that the government was trying to give itself undue powers to control the civil society sector and stifle criticism.

This has left NGOs in a legal grey area in which they must be registered with the Ministry of Interior, provide internal codes of conduct and pledge not to be politically active, Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak said.

“As it stands now, we are under direct control of the Ministry of Interior. Without the law, we are still not completely independent or protected,” he said.

Virak added that the ministry’s statement “reflected poorly” on the government, as the rights of civil society should include the freedom to be politically active.

“I think [this] narrow interpretation of civil society is also understood by many Cambodian NGOs [who self-censor]. In the US, civil society will lobby for a political party … if they agree with [certain policies].”

Sophal Ear, the author of Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy, said the role of some NGOs was primarily to be a check on government – even if that involves indirectly supporting an opposition party.

“You have to speak truth to power. I’d be more worried if NGOs started supporting the authorities. There are not supposed to be governmental non-governmental organisations,” he said.

“Of course, it comes with the territory, and if the CNRP were to somehow [take power] … I would expect NGOs to turn around and criticise the CNRP’s performance.”

Kounila Keo, an independent blogger and social media consultant, said that although many organisations remained politically neutral as institutions, NGO leaders often reveal their political allegiances online.

“I’ve seen quite a few [public] Facebook pages of NGO people who post stuff related to politics. Sometimes, what they say shows they are a little bit more biased with the opposition and they sympathise a lot with the opposition,” she said.

“I think we need to be more neutral.”

The Ministry of Interior could not be reached for comment yesterday.

MOST VIEWED

  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • General’s gun smuggling ring busted

    The Military Police sent six military officers to court on November 22 to face prosecution for possession of 105 illegal rifles and arms smuggling, while investigators say they are still hunting down additional accomplices. Sao Sokha, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of

  • Rise in planned flights lifts travel hopes

    Six airlines have applied to resume flights in December, while two others have put in for additional flights and routes, according to State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) head Mao Havannall on November 29. These account for 43 new weekly domestic and international flights in December, up 16

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration

  • More Cambodians studying in US

    The number of Cambodian students studying at US colleges and universities in 2020-21 increased by 14.3 per cent over the previous year despite the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent US government report. The 2021 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange showed that 848 Cambodian students studied

  • Hun Sen: Manet to be candidate for prime minister

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has reaffirmed that his oldest son Hun Manet will be his successor as Prime Minister if he is elected. Speaking during the inauguration of a new sewage treatment facility in Preah Sihanouk province on December 2, Hun Sen said Manet will be