The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, an umbrella group of rights organizations, has urged Kem Sokha’s new Human Rights Party to change its name to avoid confusing the public into thinking that independent rights groups have political agendas.
CHRAC’s Tuesday evening statement came a day after the Interior Ministry announced the party’s official registration, allowing it to begin its political activities.
“Named as the Human Rights Party, it could affect seriously [the] activities, roles, prestige and confidences of civil society organizations who are contributing to promote the respect of human rights in Cambodia,” CHRAC said.
Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc, said the NGOs issued the statement to separate the party from rights organizations.
Kem Sokha, who recently stepped down as president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, left Phnom Penh for a promotional tour of Europe on Tuesday evening and could not be contacted.
Human Rights Party spokesman Ou Chanrith said the party’s name reflects its mission, adding that there are no plans to change it.
“We cannot change the name upon CHRAC’s request,” Ou Chanrith said. “We have several thousand supporters who support the party’s name and there are only a few NGOs that don’t like it.”
Current CCHR President Ou Virak said he doubted people would be confused by the name of his former boss’ new political party.
“People are a whole lot smarter than the elites give them credit for,” he said.
SRP Secretary-General Mu Sochua said she understood why the human rights organizations asked for Kem Sokha to change the name of his fledgling party. The government might use political activity by the Human Rights Party to later criticize human rights groups, she said. “The government will point the finger at NGOs,” she added.
National Assembly Vice President and ruling CPP lawmaker Nguon Nhel said his party would not blame human rights organizations for the actions of the Human Rights Party. There is also no law to prevent the party from using the name, he added.
(Additional reporting by Joe Tarr)