The United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia issued a statement on Friday calling on the government to work closely with NGOs and put human rights at the forefront of policy decisions in order to achieve sustainable development.
UN envoy Rhona Smith ended her latest visit to the Kingdom on Thursday and issued the statement after her departure.
In it, she said that NGOs are crucial for development and stressed that good governance requires strong and open institutions that function to address principles of human rights.
“That means access to information, transparency, public participation in decision-making, the accountability of office-bearers and civil servants, and access to justice, supported by a free press and a vibrant, free and innovative civil society,” Ms Smith said, drawing attention to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. “SDG16, with its focus on strong, effective, accountable and inclusive institutions, on transparency and on access to justice provides a vehicle to embed human rights principles in the country’s development strategy framework.”
She noted that she was aware of the government’s recent efforts to develop mechanisms to enhance public participation in law and policy decisions, and to repeal an October 2017 instruction that had greatly restricted NGOs from conducting their activities.
However, she said that NGOs are still faced with considerable burdens in complying with Cambodia’s laws.
Ms Smith said the government must review applicable legislative and administrative frameworks, consult with NGOs and the UN, in order to ensure that regulations meet their aim without being burdensome.
Phat Sophanith, a spokesman of the Interior Ministry, said Interior Minister Sar Kheng has acknowledged Ms Smith’s concerns and welcomed NGOs as vital partners for sustainable development.
Mr Sophanith said a new working group is now tasked with handling and managing NGOs, while a forum will be held to address concerns.
“The government encourages civil society to play their roles in social development without fear by offering cooperation from local authorities,” he added. “With the new working group, civil society can file complaints anytime should problems be encountered.”
Soeung Saroeun, executive director of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, said Ms Smith’s statement reflects how development can be achieved by consistently respecting human rights, democratic principles and allow citizens to exercise their basic rights.
“Civil society organisations are critical players when it comes to promoting strong, transparent, accountable, innovative and responsive institutions to address development challenges in Cambodia,” Mr Saroeun said. “I trust once we are all together, we can address every problem we encounter.”