Experts Discuss Civil Society

Cambodian civil society, virtually destroyed during decades of war, is piecing itself back together, thanks to hundreds of foreign organizations and billions of dollars in international aid.

However, much more must be done if Cambodia is ever to survive on its own, a series of speakers maintained during the past week.

The role of civil society—and how to make it work—were topics at two national conferences sponsored by the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace.

The first, held from Nov 29 to Nov 30 in cooperation with Forum Syd, a Swedish development agency, examined civil society’s role in the “promotion of human rights and advancement of democracy.”

Prince Norodom Ranariddh, president of the National As­sembly, noted that Cambodia has about 800 non-governmental organizations, 200 of which are local.

And while NGO support is crucial to ensuring the fairness of the upcoming communal elections, he said, it is also crucial that NGOs be non-partisan and neutral in those elections.

The prince was one of dozens of speakers who addressed a wide range of topics, from how civil society can foster peace to how civil institutions can achieve better relations with the government and international donor community.

The second conference, held Monday and Tuesday, addressed how civil society can enhance good governance. It was co-sponsored by the Heinrich-Boll Foun­dation.

Prince Norodom Sirivudh, chairman of the CICP board of directors, said Cambodia must also learn to be independent. “What will we do,” he asked, “when all the donors go some­­day to some other place, like East Timor or Sierra Leone?”




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