The UN should be seen and not heard, at least when it comes to Cambodia’s controversial draft NGO law, Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong said yesterday.
Taking public issue with comments about the legislation for the second time in as many days, Namhong strongly criticised four UN agencies for statements made on the subject, after calling their heads to a meeting at his office yesterday morning.
“There are no words allowing you to comment or criticise the royal government about the draft law, which is not under your mandate,” Namhong said.
“The draft law has nothing to do with human rights, with children, with the Cambodian population or women.”
That statement was made after Namhong had met with Claire van der Vaeren, UN resident coordinator for Cambodia, UN human rights agency representative in Cambodia Wan-Hea Lee, UN Women Cambodia country director Wenny Kusuma, UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Cambodia representative Marc Derveeuw and UNICEF representative to Cambodia Rana Flowers.
On Wednesday, Namhong also criticised US Ambassador William Todd, whom he dubbed “insolent” for suggesting the Kingdom’s reputation was at stake over the proposed legislation. All five have recently urged the Cambodian government to reconsider passing the NGO law, or offer proper consultation to local and international NGOs and publish it in its current draft form.
While the government claims the bill is only intended to implement transparency among NGOs and avert the funding of terrorist activities, critics warn it could severely restrict the activity of NGOs in the country.
Responding to Namhong in a statement published on their website, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said, “The agency heads reaffirmed that they were acting within their mandates and reiterated their offer of support for dialogue with civil society on this important law”.
Meanwhile, UNICEF said it “welcomes the opening of a dialogue with the government about this important law”.
UNFPA and UN Women Cambodia did not respond by press time.
Speaking yesterday, government spokesman Phay Siphan defended the government’s criticism, saying that because the government was “the government of the people”, its actions represented “the will of the people”. He also said that international agencies should take any criticisms or suggestions to the Foreign Ministry, rather than airing them in public, in order to maintain a friendly relationship built on mutual respect. “We are human beings, not animals,” he said.
However, political analyst Ou Virak suggested the government’s angry response was partly a sign of their awareness that people in Cambodia have more faith in NGOs than in government institutions – a fact he suggested may contribute to the government’s desire to exert more control over them.
“NGOs are the most trusted sector, and the police and judiciary the least trusted,” he said. “If they truly want to react to the will of the people, the government can call a referendum.”