Ou Virak Confirmed as New CCHR President

Cambodian Center for Human Rights advocacy program director Ou Virak will take over as president of CCHR after Kem Sokha steps down from the position next month to return to politics, CCHR officials said Tuesday.

In addition, the US-based Inter­national Republican Institute, which has funded CCHR for the past four years, will cease providing funds next month, Ou Virak said.

CCHR has received up to $1 million annually over the past four years from IRI, the international arm of the US Republican party, Ou Virak said.

He added that CCHR would also separate from its media broadcast branch, Voice of Democracy, which will become an independent organization. Pa Ngoun Teang, current executive director of CCHR, said that he would become president of VOD.

Though IRI will stop funding CCHR in early May, it will continue to fund VOD, Ou Virak said.

Despite earlier denials of having designs on forming a political party, Kem Sokha will resign from the CCHR presidency on May 1 in order to form the Human Rights Party to compete in the 2008 national elections.

Ou Virak said that CCHR would remain independent and have no affiliation with the Human Rights Party.

The decision to cut funding to CCHR was “based on finances,” ac­cording to a copy of a March 12 letter to Kem Sokha from IRI Asia Division Director Cynthia Bunton obtained Thursday.

“IRI is facing a funding situation shared by many other NGOs in Cambodia,” Bunton wrote. She added that IRI has been “proud” of its association with CCHR.

Mar Sophal, monitoring coordinator with the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said that VOD and CCHR have likely split because “VOD needs a lot of money” to continue its programs. Funding is easier to attract if organizations appear independent, he added.

Kem Sokha could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.


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