The Foreign Affairs Ministry on Wednesday hit back hard at U.S. Ambassador William Todd over recent comments he made on a controversial draft law that aims to regulate the country’s multimillion dollar NGO sector, calling his remarks “extremely insolent.”
Local and international NGOs are staunchly opposed to the latest available draft of the law—now more than three years old—which they fear would give the government another tool to clamp down on critical voices. Prime Minister Hun Sen recently said he wanted it passed by the end of this month.
In his latest column for the Cambodia Herald, published Sunday, Mr. Todd said Cambodia’s image was being “affected” by the draft law in the eyes of foreign investors.
“As the Cambodian government considers the next steps, it is important to realize that the world is watching,” he wrote, noting a call from an intergovernmental coalition of 27 countries for the Cambodian government to release its current draft of the law and hold more “meaningful consultations.”
“I join this call to action, and I wholeheartedly agree with the recent comment by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Powers that an open civil society is ‘key for prosperity as well as human rights.’”
It turns out that the remarks were too much for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to tolerate.
“The words expressed by the foreign ambassador to Cambodia are extremely insolent, even if he is a representative of a big country,” the ministry said in a statement Wednesday.
The statement urges Mr. Todd to respect the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations, which stipulates that foreign delegates “have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs” of their hosts and to respect their laws and regulations.
“All members of the United Nations, big or small, shall respect each other in an equal manner, and abide by the above Convention and the international practice of courtesy in interstate relations,” the statement says.
The U.S. Embassy declined to comment.