The Foreign Affairs Ministry today holds its first consultative meeting with numerous foreign non-governmental organisations operating in the country, in a move to exchange views and strengthen cooperation.
“Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn will deliver an opening remark by giving an overall emphasis on the presence and contribution of local foreign NGOs to the socio-economic development of Cambodia and their rights and obligations under the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations,” a Foreign Affairs Ministry statement said yesterday.
It said about 300 officials from ministries, stakeholders and members of foreign NGOs are slated to attend the meeting.
“It is worth noting that it is the first consultative gathering held by the MFAIC aiming to exchange candid views and to strengthen the cooperation between the RGC and the foreign NGOs,” the statement said.
The first consultative meeting is being held a week after Mr Sokhonn met with EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström on the sidelines of the Asean-EU Ministerial Meeting in Brussels to discuss the future of Cambodia’s access to the Everything-but-arms preferential trade agreement.
The meeting is a part of plans announced by the Interior Ministry late last year to meet representatives of local civil society organisations biannually.
Ministry spokesman Ket Sophann could not be reached for comment yesterday.
High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia country representative Simon Walker said yesterday that his organisation is aware of the meeting, but has yet to receive an invitation to attend.
“OHCHR is aware of the meeting, but we have not yet received an invitation or agenda and so we are unable at this stage to provide any further comment.” Mr Simon said in an email.
A number of foreign NGOs could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Soeng Sen Karuna, spokesman for local rights group Adhoc, yesterday said that he is supportive of the meeting.
“I think it is a good thing for Cambodia when the government has the initiative to hold a meeting with foreign NGOs working in different sectors like in labour, environment, human rights and democracy,” Mr Sen Karuna said, adding the government should reconsider any requests made by NGOs. “They should accept requests and be willing to implement them, so we are encouraged to give more opinion and if not, next time they would be reluctant to give more opinions.”
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay yesterday said that the meeting between the government and representatives of NGOs “can be a controlled mechanism”.
In October, the Interior Ministry announced its plan to meet with top officials from Kingdom’s local NGOs twice per year in an effort to address concerns raised by the groups and to gather recommendations for national development.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng also considers NGOs dynamic partners of the government that can help develop the country. Mr Kheng instructed police officials and local authorities to collaborate with registered NGOs to ensure that their work was carried out without disturbance or restriction.
“To promote participation between the government and registered NGOs and grassroots associations, authorities must take part in conducting forums to exchange views,” Mr Kheng said at the time.
In a January 17 meeting, Mr Kheng said that he has never branded NGOs as backers of the former CNRP who was aiming to topple the government through a colour revolution.
“I think civil society groups branded themselves as illegal movements when they were caught carrying out their work illegally,” he said. “They caused it and now they’re scared of it.”
Mr Sen Karuna said that he was unaware if the EBA would be discussed in the meeting.
On the sidelines of the ongoing Asean-EU Ministerial Meeting in Brussels on January 21, Ms Malmström said on Twitter that the future of EBA was discussed with Mr Sokhonn.
“[I] reiterated our concerns on democracy, human rights and rule of law,” she added. “The EU continues to keep the path of dialogue open.”
Ministry spokesman Ket Sophann previously said Mr Sokhonn explained to Ms Malmström about the status of democracy in Cambodia.
“She’s going to be informed by the minister about the measures our government has taken – and will take – to ensure political space, press freedom and labour rights,” Mr Sophann said.