Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday criticized NGOs that work on human rights and democracy issues, accusing them of insulting the government and exaggerating information in order to motivate their donors to give them money.
Speaking at the National Institute of Education, Mr Hun Sen said his criticism did not extend to all NGOs, but that some organizations compete for funding by issuing insults.
“There are still some that work with democracy and human rights. They have to be very good at exaggerating—from one to 10—then they get the money. But, if they say good things about the government, then they don’t get the money,” he said. “Whoever is good at insulting will get the money.”
Mr Hun Sen did not name specific NGOs or give examples of exaggerations or insults. The premier did, however, make an exception for “good” NGOs involved in activities such as helping the disabled, demining and producing clean water.
“Some NGOs do a good job,” he said. “Many NGOs are working without insulting the government. They do it, and they get funds from their partnerships,” he said.
Mr Hun Sen’s comments follow high-profile criticism of Cambodia this month over handling of democracy and human rights issues.
Earlier this month, several local NGOs called on the government to improve what they described as Cambodia’s “perilous” state of freedom of expression and democracy.
During the same week, a report released by UN human rights envoy Surya Subedi on Sept 16 called for an overhaul of Cambodia’s court system, echoing criticism that NGOs has made of the judiciary for years.
NGOs yesterday denied the charges and said their work helps the government improve human rights and democracy.
Sia Phearum, executive director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said civil society was a “good mechanism” for stopping development from trampling rights, and NGOs were a good partner for the government.
“When the development violates the rights of the people, it will increase the poverty; so the civil society can be a platform that can raise the voice of the victims in order make aware of the government leaders in order to improve their implementation,” he said, denying the prime minister’s charges.
Chan Soveth, head of monitoring for the rights group Adhoc, said the Prime Minister’s comments would not be taken seriously by NGOs.
“His speech seems to encourage those who enjoy violating people’s rights. We have been working hard with the government almost 20 years to improve the human rights situation and help the government walk the legal path,” he said. “It is just the speech of a politician.”
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, called Mr Hun Sen’s comments “old rhetoric” that government officials have used for years. Though they are entitled to their opinions, he said detailed feedback by the government would be more helpful to NGOs.
“They should be very concrete in what they want to correct—to give information clearly,” he said.