Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday called for the closure of a prominent human rights group because it was founded by detained opposition CNRP leader Kem Sokha, who is accused of plotting to overthrow the government with the help of the United States.
“The Ministry of Interior should investigate the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights because it was created by foreigners, not Khmers,” Mr Hun Sen told garment workers.
“If it’s an international NGO, and they come to create it and ask our permission, it’s not an issue.”
“But this one is registered as Khmer and was created by foreigners,” he added.
CCHR is one of the most prominent NGOs in Cambodia and has long been critical of the government in advocating for greater respect of human and civil rights.
The CCHR was founded by Mr Sokha in 2002 before he returned to a political career in 2007.
Mr Sokha was arrested in September and charged with treason for an alleged plot to take power with American help. His Cambodia National Rescue Party was dissolved on November 16 by the Supreme Court, at the government’s request.
Mr Hun Sen yesterday described the opposition as “children” of the United States and said he told this to US President Donald Trump when they met in the Philippines this month.
Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for Interior Ministry, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Chak Sopheap, president of CCHR, posted a response on Facebook, saying that the rights group had always remained neutral and had been criticised for its work by both the CNRP and ruling CPP.
“I have no interest in power and politics,” she said. “My convictions are to promote human rights and principles.”
“I joined the centre for one reason, to promote and defend human rights, and my dream is to see Cambodians enjoy the fundamental freedom that they are entitled to.”
“We are determined to continue with our mission of promoting respect for human rights in Cambodia, on the basis of its core institutional values of independence, transparency, equality and non-discrimination,” she added.
“We are confident that any independent and impartial investigation would find no actual wrongdoing whatsoever on CCHR’s part.”
Yesterday, CCHR re-affirmed its non-partisanship and independence from all political parties.
“CCHR calls upon the Royal Government of Cambodia to enter into a meaningful dialogue with CCHR representatives in relation to these allegations, in the firm belief that any misperceptions about the nature of CCHR’s work and neutrality could be clarified, and the matter resolved,” it said.
Mr Sokha has rejected the charges against him, which the opposition calls a ploy to ensure Mr Hun Sen extends more than three decades in power in next year’s election.
Western countries have criticised the crack down. The United States has stopped funding the election and the European Union has raised a threat to Cambodia’s duty-free access if it does not respect human rights.
Mr Hun Sen has brushed off the criticism. Cambodia’s biggest donor is now China, which has voiced support for measures to ensure stability.