Prime Minister Hun Sen has created a task force to deal with complaints from civil society groups over government suppression of their activities.
The premier made the announcement on Friday, assigning eight officials to the group, which will be led by Interior Minister Sar Kheng.
“Gather information; study the requests and proposal and share ideas with government, ministries and relevant stakeholders to resolve it. Promote and raise civil society’s awareness and relevant stakeholders [awareness] about associations and NGOs law and regulations,” he wrote.
The statement came as Rhona Smith, the UN’s rights envoy to Cambodia, was visiting the country on a fact-finding mission and amid continued criticism from the United States and European Union over the suppression of basic freedoms in the country.
The EU is currently considering removing Cambodia from its duty-free trade scheme, known as Everything But Arms, over its “blatant disregard” for human and labor rights, which could have a significant impact on the garment industry in Cambodia, according to experts.
Civil society representatives said the decision to create the task force was likely made in response to international pressure.
Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator with Licadho, a local rights group, said the plan would only be effective if proposals from civil society were taken seriously and acted on.
“What’s important is their true willingness in the culture of blame. And we want more freedom for civil society to do their job.”
In the months leading up to and following July’s general election, several civil society groups were the target of government pressure over their activities.