A Change of Guard

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Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Rights official alludes to shuttering NGOs

People protest on the streets of Phnom Penh last year to raise their concerns about the controversial NGO law. Vireak Mai

Rights official alludes to shuttering NGOs
Tue, 10 May 2016 ppp
Mech Dara and Shaun Turton

The newly appointed head of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, Keo Remy, has threatened to use the controversial NGO law (LANGO) to shut down groups that continue to instigate “chaos” and “violence”.

Remy, who was appointed to the government body last week, in a press conference yesterday accused “some” NGOs of pushing the Kingdom towards civil war by trying to “topple the government” under “the umbrella of human rights”.

“We are concerned about the actions of a few civil society groups, who have gone far beyond the limitation of exercising their rights without respect for the country’s laws, causing anarchy,” he said, adding that he was also concerned Cambodia would follow in the footsteps of warn-torn countries such as Syria and Iraq.

“Before getting bigger, it starts out small. Therefore the government has . . . to uphold security and keep public order,” he said. “If civil society continues without permission and they cause violence and chaos, under the NGO and civil society law, if they cause such things, the Ministry of Interior has the right to shut down associations, organisations and civil society.”

The comments came as eight members of civil society were detained for several hours for participating in a peaceful “Black Monday” protest over the arrest of four members of rights group Adhoc and an election official in relation to an investigation into opposition leader Kem Sokha.

Critics say the government is using spurious legal justifications to crack down on the opposition and civil society.

Remy’s warning also echoed recent calls by pro-government NGOs for the government to use LANGO to punish groups such as Adhoc.

The law, passed last July, allows the Interior Ministry to shut down organisations that “endanger security and public order or jeopardise national security, national unity, culture, traditions and customs of Cambodian national society”.

“We were concerned when the law was passed that its unclear language could be interpreted or manipulated in different ways,” said the executive director of the NGO umbrella group Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, Soeng Saroen.

Human rights lawyer Billy Tai said it was clear the government was expanding its crackdown to silence critics within civil society.

“The Cambodian Human Rights Committee has no legitimacy as an independent human rights institute, and therefore can only be treated as another CPP-controlled department,” he said.

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