November 8, 2018

Cambodia’s Hun Sen orders task force for civil society groups

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen addresses the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York on Sept 28, 2018.

By Asian Correspondent Staff | 7th November 2018

CAMBODIAN Prime Minister Hun Sen has created a task force to address grouses of civil society groups that have cried foul over restrictions placed by the government.

On Friday, the premier announced a line-up of eight officials to man the task force led by Interior Minister Sar Kheng, according to Voice of America.

“Gather information; study the requests and proposal and share ideas with government, ministries and relevant stakeholders to resolve it,” Hun Sen said in a statement.

“Promote and raise civil society’s awareness and relevant stakeholders [awareness] about associations and NGOs law and regulations.”

The formation of the taskforce comes amid a visit by the United Nations rights envoy to Cambodia, Rhona Smith, who was on a fact-finding mission following criticisms by western countries on alleged suppression of basic freedoms in the Southeast Asian nation.

Observers have warned that Cambodia faces losing benefits from the EU, especially the duty-free trade scheme known as Everything But Arms, for neglecting human and labour rights in the country. The EU threat on the removal could deal a blow to Cambodia’s garment industry.

The EU earlier warned that it had launched a six-month review of Cambodia’s duty-free access to the EU, meaning sugar and other exports could face tariffs within 12 months.

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks in a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum on ASEAN at the National Convention Center in Hanoi on Sept 12, 2018. Source: AFP

According to EU data, Cambodia’s exports to the European Union were worth EU5 billion (US$5.8 billion) last year, up from negligible levels less than a decade ago.

Cambodia’s textile, garments and footwear industry are vital to its economy. Around 40 percent of its GDP comes from garment exports.

Last month, a UN expert on the rights situation in Cambodia said laws were being used to rein in dissent and were creating a “climate of fear” in the country.

Civil society groups suggested Hun Sen’s move was a sign that the government was caving in to international pressure.

Cambodian rights group, Lichadho, said the taskforce would only be effective if proposals from civil society groups were taken seriously and if action was taken.

“What’s important is their true willingness in the culture of blame. And we want more freedom for civil society to do their job,” Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator with Licadho, was quoted as saying.

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