International NGOs have urged Cambodia’s donors to use the upcoming Consultative Group meeting to hold the government to greater account for human rights abuses, increased corruption and destruction of natural resources.
Human Rights Watch, Global Witness, the Asian Human Rights Commission, the International Federation for Human Rights and FORUM-ASIA said in a letter received Wednesday that recent government action, such as the release of jailed government critics, was orchestrated for the benefit of donors.
“Recent events have demonstrated that the Government of Cambodia has yet to make a genuine commitment to good governance, human rights, the rule of law and political pluralism,” the organizations stated.
Decisions such as forgiving Cambodia’s $82 million International Monetary Fund debt days after opposition leader Sam Rainsy was sentenced to jail for defamation in December have sent the wrong message, they added.
“Rosy rhetoric and ill-timed rewards by donors…encourage the government to deny its human rights violation and anti-democratic actions,” the letter reads.
The CG meeting, at which donors announce their aid packages, is scheduled for March 2 and 3.
Years of diminished donor standards “have allowed the institutionalization and routinization of repressive and illegal practices, including high and low-level political violence, and petty and massive corruption,” the letter added.
The groups say that if CG goals are not met, donors should transfer aid from the government to NGOs that could work for poverty reduction. “The donors must press upon the government the need to take urgent measures to reverse the deteriorating situation,” the letter reads.
While the CG benchmarks for 2006 do not include a human rights indicator, the NGOs said they pleaded with donors to include several. They also blasted the government for continuing controversial economic land concessions.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith responded that the groups have no idea what they are talking about.
“These NGOs did not know the goal of the donors for the development of Cambodia,” he said. “The goal of the donors in the CG meeting is the development of infrastructure in Cambodia.”
International NGOs are not properly informed about the purposes and funding of local NGOs, the minister added. “NGOs in Cambodia get a lot of money already,” he said.
UN Development Program spokesman Dain Bolwell declined comment on whether international pressure leading up to the meeting had resulted in the government releasing the critics it had jailed.
“The United Nations commits a large amount of resources to help the Royal Government build the capacities of institutions and people to improve democratic governance,” he wrote.
“While international pressure can be applied on specific issues, we believe that sustained engagement and appropriate assistance from programs is generally more effective over the long term.”
Bolwell said the 2006 benchmarks, which some say are a pale shadow of those laid out in the December 2004 CG meeting, are more realistic.
“Some indicators have been changed in light of experience over the last few years. There has been more donor-government discussion about what can be realistically monitored over a one-year time frame,” he wrote.
“We believe that as a result, the new indicators are more realistic.”
An official representing Japan, Cambodia’s largest bilateral donor, said Japan has no official policy on whether human rights should be a benchmark, but that it does care about human rights here.
“As you saw with our recent comments on the defamation cases, we are watching the situation closely and we hope Cambodia develops along democratic lines,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
Japanese Ambassador Takahashi Fumiaki last week urged the government in a candid pre-CG meeting speech to enact eight fundamental laws, including the new penal code, as soon as possible.
“The establishment of a just and stable legal and judicial system is the basis for all development projects, providing necessary conditions for democracy and human rights protection,” he said, according to a copy of the speech obtained last week.