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Ministry files NGO freedom report as part of EBA review

Sun Mesa / Khmer Times Share:
Interior Minister Sar Kheng speaks to the media. KT/Siv Channa

The Ministry of Interior has submitted a report on the state of NGOs to the Foreign Affairs Ministry ahead of the latter’s imminent response to the European Union’s concerns over rights and freedom in the country in relation to the possible withdrawal of the Kingdom’s Everything-but-arms trade status.

Last month, the European Commission filed a preliminary report with the government in regards to the EBA review, which highlighted ongoing EU concerns over rights, freedom and democracy in the Kingdom.

The government is set to respond to the report this week, and the Interior Ministry has already filed a report over the work of NGOs in the country to the Foreign Affairs Ministry to be included in the response.

“We already sent our report to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for submission,” Interior Minister Sar Kheng said on Friday as he chaired an unrelated meeting. “It [the report] is all about the facts in Cambodia. We cannot lie to them.”

After his meeting, Mr Kheng spoke with the media and said that his ministry looked into concerns raised by NGOs over restrictive work environments and uncooperative local authorities, but was not able to verify any of them as legitimate.

“We could not find any of the concerns raised by NGOs,” he noted.

He said that NGOs are an important partner of the government, noting that local authorities are often instructed to cooperate with NGOs and facilitate their work.

“I always remind officials about the partnership with NGOs and we are committed to enhance that partnership,” he said. “We always pay attention to the concerns of NGOs.”

“If we identify a problem, we will deal with it, but there are no obvious problems to be addressed,” he added.

Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, yesterday said that NGOs, politicians and independent media have seen their freedom restricted in the Kingdom.

“NGOs and politicians have to fight through restrictions. We see that freedom for NGOs is disappearing,” she said, noting that some local NGOs were not able to celebrate Human Rights Day on Saturday.

“We hope the government will open space for NGOs because they claim we have freedom, but we do not,” she added.

The government is currently reviewing the EC’s preliminary report on whether the Kingdom should retain its Everything-but-arms trade status.

The EBA status allows preferential access to the EU market. It has been under review by the EC since February. The EC said duty-free trade under the EBA may be suspended due to serious and systematic violations of labour and human rights.

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