A government spokesman has hit back at a coalition of 10 prominent rights groups that have urged Cambodia’s foreign donors to consider freezing funding if the controversial law on NGOs and associations is passed in its current form.
A coalition including Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development sent letters to 36 foreign ministers of major donor countries and the European Union last week warning that the law would allow the government to “intimidate and potentially shut down local, national and foreign NGOs, associations, and informal groups that criticize the government or government officials”.
What else do they want? We just want to have a proper law
The groups asked donor countries to call on the government to stop advancing the law, “reassess” bilateral assistance and push for multilateral agencies including the United Nations and international financial institutions to do the same. Ek Tha, a spokesman and deputy director of the press unit at the Council of Ministers, defended the law yesterday and said the Kingdom had become a “safe haven” for “3,000 NGOs and associations”.
“What else do they want? We just want to have a proper law to regulate their operations to follow the rule of law in the country where they are operating,” he said by email. Ek Tha also took aim at the global community for inaction during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. “I wish we had foreign NGOs and human rights activists voice their concerns in the 1970s when we were being treated badly under the Khmer Rouge regime,” he said.
“Sadly, no one went to protest before UN headquarters, no foreign country at the time, except the Vietnamese who helped the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) at the time, to drive Pol Pot from power.” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said yesterday the law posed a “fundamental violation of freedom of association”.
“This law on associations and NGOs is moving rapidly through the Council of Ministers and the voices of Cambodia’s international development partners need to be heard right now.”