The move to shut down the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) appears to be linked to the prosecution of the opposition leader Kem Sokha and the outlawing of his Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP).
The Phnom-Penh-based NGO announced in reply: “CCHR wishes to reaffirm its absolute non-partisanship and independence from political parties.”
The CCHR has received international funding, including from the Australian Embassy, USAID and Sweden.
International donors should immediately call on Phnom Penh to end its “baseless probe” into the CCHR, which was founded by Kem Sokha, Human Rights Watch said.
The CCHR reportedly assisted the hundreds of thousands of Cambodians who had their land stolen and rights abused by the authorities.
Canada’s ambassador to Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, Donica Pottie, tweeted: “Shocking! CCHR does exceptional work, is staffed [by] loyal, dynamic Cambodians.”
Brad Adams, Asia director of the New-York-based Human Rights Watch, said: “Prime Minister Hun Sen needed little time after shutting down the main opposition party to go after a major human rights group. The prime minister is showing his fear not only of free elections, but of free expression and association.”
In a speech yesterday (Sunday), Hun Sen said: “The Centre for Human Rights in Phnom Penh must be closed down, because this one does what it’s told by foreigners. … The Ministry of Interior should look it over because this one was created by foreigners, not by the Khmer.”
The veteran premier added: “If it’s a foreign organisation that someone comes to create by asking our authorisation, that’s OK, but this was by this one person of Khmer nationality, which foreigners had created to do this and do that.”
Kem Sokha established the CCHR in 2002 and resigned from the group in 2007 to return to politics. The centre has promoted human rights education, rural land rights and protected lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups, providing free legal aid to victims.
On September 3, Kem Sokha was arrested on charges of treason and the authorities threatened to arrest the rest of the CNRP leadership. Kem Sokha allegedly colluded with the CIA to ferment a revolution.
On November 16, the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP and enforced five-year band on 118 of its members. Its parliamentarians were encouraged to join Hun Sen’s dominant Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
The party said yesterday it continued to accept commune-level defectors from the CNRP, noting that nearly half of the opposition’s representatives had joined the ruling party.
Hun Sen set a weekend deadline for local-level opposition politicians to join the CPP if they wanted to keep their jobs.
In June’s commune elections, the CPP won 1,156 councils while the CNRP took 489, while the Khmer National United Party won just one.
There were 5,007 CNRP commune councillors and almost 500 commune heads.
Prime Minister Hun Sen. Picture credit: Kremlin