Human rights groups say the Foreign Affairs Minister was wrong to demand the incoming representative of Unicef not comment on controversial legislation to govern NGOs. In a statement Tuesday, the civil society groups said Minister Hor Namhong’s demands constitute a narrowing of democratic ideals.
Many critics fear the new law on NGOs will allow powerful politicians and the courts to curb the activities of groups they see as threats, particularly in human rights and democracy.
Hor Namhong recently instructed incoming Unicef head Debra Comini not to comment on the law, according to a ministry spokesman. In a meeting with Comini, Hor Namhong recounted the “mistakes” made by a previous representative of the UN agency, particularly in joining international criticism of the Law on Associations and NGOs.
In an email, Comini declined to comment on the meeting.
Ros Sopheap, executive director of Gender and Development for Cambodia, said that kind of demand can restrict basic freedoms in a democracy. “She came to assist Cambodia in developing the rights of people and children,” she said. “If her rights are limited, it seems that we have told her that you will have a problem if you do that. So she doesn’t feel safe in succeeding at her job.”
Hor Namhong’s demands could also be seen as detrimental to the rights of children, she said.
Am Sam Ath, chief of investigation for the rights group Licadho, said such warnings can have a negative impact on international missions here. “People from democratic countries don’t need such advice,” he said.