Cambodian government’s arbitrary suspension of NGO condemned

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Some 40 civil society groups have come out to protest the suspension of a Cambodian NGO that works to analyse the impact of development projects especially on the poor and marginalised.

We, representatives of the undersigned members of civil society, support national development that is equitable, inclusive, and sustainable. We believe national development should contribute not only to the growth of commerce and industry but also to the welfare of the wider population. Civil society actors, both local and foreign, play a vital role in this development through monitoring, community development, poverty alleviation, humanitarianism, research, and advocacy. In promoting equitable development and good governance, we also have a right and a responsibility to speak out when development projects have harmful effects.

Over the past two decades, a vibrant civil society sector has developed in Cambodia. The future of that sector is dependent on guaranteed rights to freedom of expression and association as articulated in Cambodia’s Constitution, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Today, we see the future of Cambodian democracy at a crossroads. The third draft of the Law on Associations and NGOs is currently at the Council of Ministers and may be on the verge of passage. Unfortunately, even before the restrictive law has been enacted, Cambodian society has been offered a preview into the future of government control over civil society organisations and associations under this law.

On 2 August 2011, the Ministry of Interior issued a letter to local NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) to “suspend [its] activities” until 31 December 2011, a period of five months. STT works with urban poor communities regarding land and housing rights. The organisation is also a well-respected member of several civil society networks.

The letter offers no legal basis for the suspension. It simply accuses STT of failing to modify its leadership structure and making a revision to its statute “according to the instruction of a specialised department”. The letter offers no further explanation. To our knowledge, however, the real reason for suspending STT is the organisation’s legitimate work among urban poor communities.

We are not aware of any legal provision authorising such a suspension. The lengthy five-month time period also appears entirely arbitrary. Efforts to seek clarification from the Ministry of Interior have been met with silence.

We condemn the suspension of STT in the strongest possible terms. The suspension of STT is completely arbitrary and a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of expression and association, and an assault on human rights defenders. We demand its immediate reversal. We regard this act to silence STT as an act of oppression against us all. The use of a vague administrative technicality to suspend an organisation is an alarmingly clear sign of how the Cambodian government intends to use the NGO Law to curb the activities of all associations and NGOs that advocate for the rights of marginalised groups within Cambodian society.

STT’s work with some of Cambodia’s most marginalised communities should be applauded, not silenced. The independent, quantitative research on the impact of development projects that STT provides should be regarded as helpful in guiding both current and future development projects to better serve the Cambodian people. We urge all concerned parties to read STT’s most recent report, available on the organisation’s website and determine for themselves the value of STT’s work.

The report is available here.

Endorsed by:

  1. Civic Alliance for Social Accountability in Cambodia (CASA)
  2. Bridges Across Borders Cambodia (BABC)
  3. Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
  4. LICADHO Canada (LC)
  5. Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR)
  6. Workers Rights Consortium (WRC)
  7. Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA)
  8. Housing Rights Task Force (HRTF)
  9. Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
  10. Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE)
  11. Community Legal Education Center (CLEC)
  12. Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel)
  13. Oxfam
  14. Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC)
  15. Heinrich Boell Stiftung (HBS)
  16. Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation (CFSWF)
  17. Building Community Voices (BCV)
  18. Development and Partnership in Action (DPA)
  19. Volunteer for Sustainable Development (VSD)
  20. NGO Coalition to Address Trafficking & Sexual Exploitation of Children in Cambodia (COSECAM)
  21. Community Peace building Network (CPN)
  22. Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA)
  23. The Messenger Band (MB)
  24. Social Action for Change (SAC)
  25. People’s Action for Change (PAC)
  26. NGO Education Partnership (NEP)
  27. Gender And Development For Cambodia (GADC)
  28. Danchurch Aid (DCA)
  29. Christian Aid (CA)
  30. Diakonia
  31. Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC)
  32. NGO Committee on the Rights of the Child (NGOCRC)
  33. Civil Servant Independent Association (CICA)
  34. Forum Syd (FS)
  35. Trocaire
  36. Star Kampuchea (SK)
  37. Women Media Centre (WMC)
  38. Women for Prosperity (WFP)
  39. Concern Worldwide Cambodia
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