Statement on recent arrests of non-government and United Nations workers in Cambodia

Union Aid Abroad–APHEDA believes that organised, informed civil society is important for the equitable development of any country. That’s why we’re standing against the recent arrests of non-government organisation (NGO) and United Nations workers in Cambodia.

You might have noticed mainstream news outlets like the Economist and New York Times covering the shrinking space for civil society worldwide. Governments in Hungary, Egypt, Russia, China and India have all introduced new laws aimed at restricting NGO activity and suppressing critical voices in civil society. Last year, the Cambodian Government joined the trend and introduced new legislation to regulate NGOs (legislation known as LANGO), despite fears that it could be used to quash the voices of civil society.

Now those fears have been realised with the arrests of staff of the UN and human rights NGOs. More arrests followed after NGOs and civil society organisations protested against the initial arrests as attacks on human rights. NGOs and civil society organisations are being portrayed as taking a political position because of their criticism of the government on human rights abuses and corruption. Now the government is also clearly using the LANGO to pressure human rights NGOs to change their public positions on human rights issues.

With general elections scheduled for 2018, given how contested the previous elections were, the political space in Cambodia is starting to heat up. Intensifying restrictions on the most active and visible voices in Cambodian civil society is likely intended as a message to all those working in this space: keep quiet and don’t rock the boat.

Alongside more than 32 other organisations, Union Aid Abroad–APHEDA has signed a joint public statement to the Government of Cambodia identifying urgent concerns.

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