Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong yesterday met with newly appointed UNICEF representative to Cambodia Debora Comini, reportedly reminding the Italian national that it was the organisation’s role to cooperate with the royal government, not criticise it.
According to a statement released after the meeting, Comini welcomed the government’s commitment to UNICEF’s mission of realising the right of all Cambodian children to survive and develop as healthy adults, calling the government “very supportive to UNICEF’s mandate”.
“Making a difference for children is not something we can achieve alone. It is the result of adding up the skills and the passion of everyone involved, working together to achieve a common goal for children. That includes the government, civil society, donors, the communities themselves, and the United Nations,” Comini was quoted as saying.
In the same statement, Namhong, who is also a deputy prime minister, affirmed UNICEF’s longstanding collaboration with the Cambodian government over previous decades, counting it “among a few international organisations that was present in Cambodia during the difficult time after the fall of the Khmer Rouge”.
However, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry, Namhong also recalled unwelcome interventions made earlier this year by Comini’s UNICEF predecessor regarding the government’s development of controversial NGO laws.
“Debora Comini was informed by the deputy prime minister about previous criticism made by the UNICEF country representative to the media while the Cambodian government was drafting laws, which was misconduct as stated in the mandate of UNICEF,” Sounry told reporters after the meeting.
“The mandate of UNICEF is to cooperate with the government to provide support for Cambodian children, but not to be involved with the law on NGOs.”
In May, Namhong chastised UNICEF alongside three other UN agencies for questioning the bill, which critics warn could severely restrict the activity of NGOs in the country.
At the time, the deputy prime minister claimed that the draft laws had “nothing to do with human rights, with children, with the Cambodian population or women”.
Coming from a posting in Panama, Comini is replacing former representative Rana Flowers – who was among those scolded by Namhong – in what UNICEF yesterday described as a routine rotation.
UNICEF did not respond to the Ministry’s comments re-garding its mandate in Cambodia.