More than 100 NGOs and human rights groups yesterday urged foreign donors to flag issues regarding land policies, democratic processes and human rights during today’s Government-Development Partner Coordinating Committee (GDCC) meeting.
While the high-level aid conference was once held every six months, today’s meeting marks the first GDCC since April last year after the government indefinitely suspended it in August 2011.
Intended as a preparatory meeting for Cambodia’s main government and donor summit, the GDCC is generally used by the government to provide an indication of where its five-year plan is headed. That, in turn, is meant to inform donor policy in the lead-up to the Cambodian Development Cooperation Forum (CDCF), in which donors typically reveal where aid funding will be channelled and identify reforms they expect the government to tackle.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has said the next CDCF will be held in 2014. Although the meetings are supposed to be held every 18 months, last year they too were indefinitely postponed, and one has not convened since 2010.
Although the Ministry of Finance and the Council for the Development of Cambodia earlier denied knowledge of the meeting, an official within the former department who declined to be named confirmed the GDCC meeting would begin today behind closed doors.
Even though reforms, or Joint Monitoring Indicators (JMIs), are ordinarily approved only at the CDCF, speculation has been rife many will be validated today, prompting a slew of urgent recommendations from the NGO and human rights community.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a representative of a donor country told the Post yesterday that donors had been given “plenty of notice” that the meeting would go ahead and that JMIs had been tabled on the agenda “to review and validate”.
When asked what may have spurred the government to announce the meeting, the source said “it had been a very big year with ASEAN”.
“It’s really important that the dialogue continues; we’ve really welcomed this.”
In the list of recommendations released by NGOs yesterday following a workshop, the groups called for amplified transparency and accountability, land and election reform as well as greater support for agriculture and fisheries.
Chief among the reforms called for was that relating to land, including the “transparent and comprehensive demarcation of state land” and “the adoption of a national resettlement policy … consistent with international standards.”
Dr Sin Somuny, executive director at MEDiCAM – a health sector NGO and one of the workshop’s co-ordinators – said he believed reforms would be approved today.
“It’s also a positive signal that the CDCF may be held earlier than expected. Tomorrow, we will put forward critical governance and accountability issues. That’s our theme, but there is a set agenda, and we are technically observers tomorrow, so we hope to get the chance to raise our concerns,” Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum in Cambodia, which also co-ordinated the recommendations, said.
A group of international and regional human-rights organisations yesterday sent a letter to a number of embassies in the country and other aid donors, asking them to reference specific and recent human-rights violations at the meeting, including the incarceration of Beehive Radio director Mam Sonando, the murders of environmental activist Chut Wutty and journalist Serei Oudom, and the arrests and the detention of Boeung Kak and Borei Keila activists Yorm Bopha and Tim Sakmony.
“We strongly urge donors not to endorse and reward the actions of the RGC through a large-scale injection of new funds, but instead to make a coordinated and public condemnation of the government’s increasing human rights abuses,” it read.
Phil Robertson, of Human Rights Watch, said foreign donors aiding Cambodia’s development had a responsibility to raise human rights issues “whenever they meet with Cambodian officials”.
“We’ve stressed to the donors the importance on focusing [today] on human rights defenders who are facing prosecution for expressing their views – Mam Sonando, the Boeung Kak and Borei Keila activists – these are examples of what happens when people challenge the government. What we want is a unified stance across the board, in solid concrete, saying: ‘You should not do that.’
“In a meeting like this, it’s very hard to put something on the agenda, but it is possible to raise specific cases and these represent bigger issues – ELCs and land demarcation, human rights defenders … If the donors hang together, the government may ultimately listen to them.”
But Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak said the CDCF was a “smoke screen”and he was not confident NGOs’ calls would be answered today.
“The government and the donors know the agenda, and most of the things are agreed to beforehand by various working groups,” he said.
“There could still be the opportunity to push a few things through; we need a few people in the donor community to ... shake it up a bit.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Claire Knox at [email protected]