Civil Society Conference Disappointed by Gov’t

Following the Cambodian government’s decision last week to block an independently selected civil society leader from representing the country at the Asean Civil Society Conference (ACSC), the chair of the conference said in a statement released Monday that some governments had been “extremely disappointing.”

Despite the selection of NGO director Thida Khus by civil society organizations earlier this month to represent Cambodia at the meeting held in Kuala Lumpur last week, the Foreign Affairs Ministry rejected the decision, instead appointing Duong Viroth, a former director of the Council of Ministers’ department of civil society, NGOs and human rights.

In an interview Tuesday, ACSC chair Jerald Joseph said that Cambodia and Singapore were the only countries in the region that sent representatives not chosen by grassroots organizations.

“We were hoping that all governments would respect the process, as a way of ensuring that it was independent civil society organizations in dialogue with Asean heads [of state]. Unfortunately, that did not happen with Cambodia,” Mr. Joseph said.

“If you want to take part in a dialogue with heads of state, you need real NGOs to give you a fair and honest assessment of what is happening on the ground and not somebody that will repeat or speak what you want to hear,” he said, adding that Cambodia was also one of three countries that opted not to send an independently chosen representative to the event last year.

In a statement released Monday, Mr. Joseph said: “In the last 10 years since the 1st ACSC in Kuala Lumpur, the Interface has gone through some choppy roads and at many times been extremely disappointing by some governments.”

Ms. Khus, the executive director of the training NGO Silaka and a prominent women’s rights activist, said she was informed that she would not be representing Cambodia five days prior to last week’s conference.

“The Cambodian government did not consider us as an important institution or player,” she said. “They just go around and make their own selection, so it’s not the self-representation of the CSOs.”

Contacted Tuesday, Mr. Viroth said he was not currently working for the Council of Ministers, referring questions about the selection process to Suong Huot, director of the National Educators’ Association for Development.

Mr. Huot said “Cambodian Civil Society”—an umbrella organization that he said includes some 200 civil society groups—nominated Mr. Viroth to attend the conference.

“If we talk about civil society, there are different groups,” Mr. Huot said. “My group selected Mr. Viroth, and Ms. Thida’s group selected Ms. Thida, but the person who is selected must be supported by the foreign minister.”

The spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry could not be reached.

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