Cambodia suspends German-funded NGO that lobbies for urban poor

Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Monsters and Critics, Aug 11 2011

Phnom Penh – A collective of more than 30 civil society bodies and umbrella groups on Thursday condemned a decision to suspend a local non-governmental organization that advocates for the urban poor in Cambodia.

Earlier the government confirmed it had ordered Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) to suspend operations for five months starting August 1, citing its failure to file certain documents.

However the civil society collective said there appeared to be no legal basis for the suspension, and demanded it be reversed.

‘To our knowledge the real reason for suspending STT is the organisation’s legitimate work among urban poor communities,’ the collective said in its statement.

STT has worked for six years providing services and advice to urban communities.

The German government’s development arm Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) is one of its key funders, as is German Catholic charity Misereor.

STT’s program coordinator Ee Sarom said Thursday the organization was ‘committed to pro-poor sustainable development’, and looked forward to resuming operations ‘as soon as possible.’

In the past two years STT has criticized aspects of the 142-million-dollar redevelopment of Cambodia’s decrepit rail network. Funding for that project has come from the Asian Development Bank, the Australian government and Phnom Penh.

The NGO has previously complained that the project had made some of the country’s poorest even worse off, a stance that observers say has annoyed the government.

STT’s suspension comes as the Council of Ministers assesses a controversial draft law designed to regulate civil society. Hundreds of NGOs and some donors, including the United States, have come out against the current draft.

One objection is that registration would be both complicated and mandatory for every association and organization; another is that the draft lacks safeguards against dissolution or denial of registration.

Unless the draft is sent back to ministries for further work, it will proceed next to parliament where the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s majority could see it quickly passed.

The NGO collective claimed STT’s suspension was indicative of the government’s intent to use the law ‘to curb the activities of all associations and NGOs that advocate for the rights of marginalized groups.’