Cambodia to Critics of NGO Law: Where Were You During Khmer Rouge Regime?

A local NGO in Cambodia distributes school uniforms to students. The Cambodian government has hit back at groups criticizing a proposed NGO Law and took a swipe at the international community for not doing the same for Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime. Photo by: cambodia4kids.org/ CC BY

The Cambodian government has hit back at groups criticizing a proposed NGO Law and took a swipe at the international community for not doing the same for Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime.

The statement came amid mounting pressure from donors, as well as foreign and domestic civil society groups for the Cambodian government to reconsider passing an NGO law, which is seen to give government discretionary powers over foreign and domestic NGOs and suppress freedom of expression in the country.

Ek Tha, a spokesman and deputy director of the press unit at the Council of Ministers, defended the proposal earlier this week. He said Cambodia has become a “safe haven” for 3,000 non-governmental organizations and associations, the Phnom Penh Post reports.  

Ek Tha was reacting to actions by a coalition of 10 human rights groups who are urging donors to consider freezing their assistance to Cambodia should it enact the NGO law in its current form.

“What else do they want? We just want to have a proper law to regulate their operations to follow the rule of law in the country where they are operating,” he said. 

In an apparent swipe at the international community, Ek Tha also said: “I wish we had foreign NGOs and human rights activists voice their concerns in the 1970s when we were being treated badly under the Khmer Rouge regime.” 

“Sadly, no one went to protest before U.N. headquarters, no foreign country at the time, except the Vietnamese who helped the Cambodian People’s Party at the time, to drive Pol Pot from power.”

The proposed NGO law, which is now on its third draft, is being discussed by the Council of Ministers. The draft will next go to parliament, where it is expected to be passed by the ruling party.

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About the author

  • Che de los Reyes

    As a senior staff writer, Che focuses on international development breaking news coverage as well as interviews and features. Prior to joining Devex, Che handled communications for local and international development NGOs and government institutions in the Philippines.