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Civil society groups meet Rhona Smith

Taing Vida / Khmer Times Share:
Rhona Smith speaks with Preap Kol. Supplied

Representatives of 10 civil society groups yesterday met the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia and highlighted problems they face carrying out their activities.

They claimed that some authorities discriminated against NGOs monitoring human rights, and restricted access to information, but cooperated with other civil society groups dealing with social development.

Ny Sokha, who represented rights group Adhoc, yesterday said that during the meeting with UN envoy Rhona Smith, the groups raised issues such as human rights violations and the law on NGOs which restricts freedom of assembly.

He said even though the relationship between the government and NGOs has improved since last year’s national election, there have been day-to-day challenges.

“Officials follow us closely to monitor our activities on the ground. Police question us as well as people who attend our forums and workshops,” Mr Sokha said. “We find it annoying and frustrating.”

He noted that civil society groups working on the issues of human rights and democracy are often perceived as anti-government groups and are treated differently.

Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said the groups also raised concerns about the government’s pressure on former opposition group officials and supporters.

“Former CNRP officials and supporters were questioned and arrested after they criticized the government on social media,” he said. “They were accused of creating hatred toward the government.”

Interior Ministry spokesman General Khieu Sopheak yesterday dismissed the groups’ accusations, saying that the government has put in much effort to promote cooperation with civil society groups.

“If the government restricted them, how could they meet with Ms Smith? How could they report badly about the government to her? This is unacceptable,” he said.

In an email to Khmer Times yesterday, Ms Smith commented on her meeting with the civil society groups.

“Today I had various briefing sessions with different organisations, which include UN agencies and civil society organisations. A series of government meetings have been requested, the schedule has not yet been finalised. I requested a meeting with the Prime Minister but to date this meeting has not been arranged.” she said.

Ms Smith also expressed disappointment that the Phnom Penh Municipal Court had rejected her request to meet former opposition leader Kem Sokha, who remains on bail while facing treason charges.

“I consider Kem Sokha’s case important as I have regularly expressed concern at the length of his detention and called for charges to be confirmed or definitively dropped and a release from house detention,” she said. “It is likely that the length of his pre-trial detention will be raised during relevant government meetings.”

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