Kek Galabru, founder and president of the rights group Licadho, testified before a US congressional hearing on human rights earlier this month. Following the Sept. 10 hearing, which was held amid concerns the government was cracking down on dissenters, Kek Galabru spoke to VOA Khmer in Washington.
She urged reconciliation between the government and civic groups, and outlined the necessary components of a working democracy, including freedoms and the rule of law.
“I regret that the government still doesn’t understand our intention and classifies NGOs as the enemy of the government,” she said.
Cambodia is like an ill patient, she said, but the symptoms need diagnosed, she said. “It’s just like the doctor. If we want the right medication, we need to tell this kind of sickness or that kind of sickness.”
She said she wanted to work as a partner of the government, not an antagonist.
“Let’s sit down together as Khmer and work with the same intention,” she said. “The government and NGOs are not different at all. It’s just that the government has more financial and human resources. For my group, we need to ask for assistance from outside.
“So we’ll sit together, Khmer and Khmer, and we can find the same formula and cooperate together, and when our country has prosperity, when the people are happy, have enough money, when everyone has land, who will receive the credit? Not the NGOs. They will say, ‘Oh! This government is working good to serve the people; behold.’”
In the meantime, a democracy requires freedom of access to information; freedom of assembly, for peaceful demonstrations and other association; and freedom of expression.
It requires not just a high quantity of newspapers, but quality as well, “good quality writing, without fear, complaint, criminal charges, imprisonment,” she said.
Modern Cambodia is a product of the Paris Peace Accords, signed by 18 countries, including the US, she said. Donors came together to help restore Cambodia, including its court system, to be independent.
“Why so?” she said. “Because any real democratic country, where the people have a good standard of living and the people are in good shape, with good development of their society and economy—they need an independent court system, and if it’s not independent, it’s impossible.”
“So I asked the US, do they have any means to please help reform our court system,” she said.
Kek Galabru also said she did not support the concept of cutting aid money from the US over alleged rights abuses.
“I’m concerned that the people and the poor would be impacted,” she said. “I do not want a cut in aid money. But I want a superpower country that has more abilities, like the US, to seek all means to cooperate with the Cambodian government, to reform them well.”