Cablegate: Information On Civil Society in Cambodia
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0922/01 3190852
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 140852Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0109
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 PHNOM PENH 000922
DEPARTMENT FOR INR
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PINR ECON PGOV PHUM PREL SOCI CB
SUBJECT: INFORMATION ON CIVIL SOCIETY IN CAMBODIA
REF: STATE 92765
SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. NOT FOR INTERNET DISSEMINATION.
1. (SBU) Post's response to questions posed in reftel are as
1) (U) WHAT IS THE REGISTRATION PROCESS FOR LOCAL NGOS OR
ASSOCIATIONS, INCLUDING THE LENGTH OF TIME, THE GOVERNMENT
MINISTRIES RESPONSIBLE, AND ANY DIFFERENCE IN REGISTRATION
FOR PARTY ORGANIZATIONS?
Prospective NGOs must apply for registration with the
Ministry of Interior. The registration process involves the
submission of an application form, permission letters from
the Ministry and background data on the NGO, including CVs of
the management. Compared to the process for registering as a
business or party organization, registering as an NGO is
2) (U) HOW MANY NGOS OR ASSOCIATIONS ARE REGISTERED AND WHAT
IS THE LEVEL OF MEMBERSHIP WITHIN THESE ORGANIZATIONS?
There are 2,608 NGOs or associations registered, of which 80
percent are locally operated.
3) (U) WHAT KIND OF ACTIVITIES ARE NGOS INVOLVED IN AND HOW
WIDESPREAD IS THEIR INVOLVEMENT IN THESE ACTIVITIES? WHAT
TYPE OF LIAISON DO THEY HAVE WITH THE CENTRAL AND LOCAL
NGOs in Cambodia are involved in all manner of development
activities, including in the areas of health, education,
governance, human rights, and democracy building. Most work
closely with relevant government ministries and local
4) (U) WHAT PARTNERSHIPS DO NGOS HAVE WITH INTERNATIONAL
NGOS, INCLUDING TYPES OF JOINT PROJECTS AND GOVERNMENT
OVERSIGHT FOR THESE RELATIONSHIPS?
Most local NGOs in Cambodia are sub-grantees or
sub-contractors of larger, international NGOs. In addition
to providing funding, the international NGOs sometimes also
provide administrative support.
It should be noted that the Revival of Islamic Heritage
Society (RIHS), a Kuwaiti-based NGO designated under
Executive Order 13224 by the U.S. Treasury Department for
providing financial and material support to al Qaida and al
Qaida affiliates, including Jemaah Islamiyah (JI),
established a branch in Cambodia. One RIHS branch office in
Cambodia was subsequently closed following revelations that
an RIHS employee provided logistical support to JI's fugitive
leader Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin (a.k.a. "Hambali") prior to
his capture in 2003.
5) (SBU) WHAT IS THE STATUS OF LEGISLATION ON ASSOCIATIONS?
WHICH GOVERNMENT MINISTRIES OR INDIVIDUALS SUPPORT OR OPPOSE
THE LEGISLATION AND WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ROADBLOCKS TO THE
A draft NGO law, dating from 2005, was recently sent to the
Council of Ministers for review, a necessary step prior to
tabling the draft law in the National Assembly. The draft
originated from the Ministry of the Interior, and has been
called the draft "NGO Control Law." Human rights NGOs and
opposition parties are critical of the proposed draft,
claiming that such a law could be used to curb NGO activity.
Prime Minister Hun Sen remarked on the draft law September
26, reportedly criticizing NGOs for "getting out of hand."
6) (U) WHAT TYPES OF ADVOCACY AND FOR WHICH ISSUES ARE NGOS
OR MASS ORGANIZATIONS INVOLVED? HOW ARE LEADERS SELECTED?
WHAT ROLE DOES THE GOVERNMENT PLAY, IF ANY, IN THE INTERNAL
WORKINGS OF MASS ORGANIZATIONS?
Advocacy platforms run the gamut, including gender-based,
labor-based, environment-based, etc. Leaders are most often
Cambodians or overseas Cambodians who have returned to the
country. They are selected by the NGOs, boards of directors
and elected by staff members. Other than the registration
process (see question 1) the government is not involved in
the internal workings of NGOs.
7) (U) HOW DOES LOCAL GOVERNMENT DEFINE CIVIL SOCIETY?
BESIDES NGO, WHAT OTHER ENTITIES/ORGANIZATIONS DOES THE
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GOVERNMENT INCLUDE IN THEIR DEFINITION OF CIVIL SOCIETY? HOW
MUCH FREEDOM OF ACTION DO THESE ENTITIES HAVE?
Civil society includes NGOs and other non-governmental and
non-profit institutions such as unions and professional
associations. Cambodian law protects civil society
institutions from interference from the government, but in
practice this is not always the case. For instance, workers
are free to establish labor unions, but in practice their
ability to strike, demonstrate, and assemble is often
hindered by the government.
8) (U) WHERE DO NGOS/MASS ORGANIZATIONS GET THEIR FUNDING?
NGOs get their funding from bilateral donors like USAID, the
EU, JICA, AusAID, DANIDA, SIDA, CIDA and DFID, and also from
multilateral donors like the World Bank and UN.
1) (U) WHAT CONTROLS DOES THE GOVERNMENT PLACE ON THE MEDIA,
AND ON WHAT ISSUES DOES THE MEDIA HAVE MORE OR LESS
FREEDOM TO REPORT?
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the
press; however, these rights are not always respected in
practice. The constitution implicitly limits free speech by
requiring that it not adversely affect public security. The
constitution also declares that the king is "inviolable." In
December, 2007 the Ministry of Information issued a directive
that reiterates these limits and prohibits publishers and
editors from running stories that insult or defame government
leaders and institutions.
The 1995 press law prohibits prepublication censorship or
imprisonment for expressing opinions. However, the
government continued to use the older UNTAC law to prosecute
journalists and others on defamation and disinformation
charges. In 2006 the National Assembly amended the UNTAC law,
eliminating imprisonment for defamation but not for spreading
disinformation, which carries prison sentences of up to three
years. In both types of cases, judges can order fines, which
may lead to jail time if not paid.
The government and influential individuals use the weak and
often politically biased judiciary to file defamation and
disinformation suits, both civil and criminal, in an effort
to silence critics. In theory all journalists and newspapers
are free to publish stories on virtually any topic, but self
censorship is a common occurrence, due mainly to the use of
defamation suits as mentioned above, and also to the fact
that most if not all publications are directly controlled by
political parties. The vast majority of print, radio and
television outlets are directly controlled by the ruling
party. The opposition therefore only has limited access to
the public, with the exception of the 30 day campaign period
when state TV provides "equal access" presentations to all
parties ad news regarding major political parties. Prior to
the campaign period, lack of media access was a notable
problem during the run up to the general elections in July of
2) (U) TO WHAT EXTENT DOES THE PUBLIC RELY ON LOCAL RADIO AND
TELEVISION, AS WELL AS THE INTERNET, AS SOURCES OF
INFORMATION, AND WHAT GOVERNMENT CONTROLS ARE IN PLACE FOR
A majority of Cambodians receive their information via
television with radios coming in a close second, especially
in the provinces where there is no reliable source of
electricity. Internet penetration is still extraordinarily
low. According to an industry survey published by the
English-language newspaper &The Phnom Penh Post8, 13,000
Cambodians, or less than one-thousandth of the total
population, have that Internet subscriptions. Most are in
the capital Phnom Penh and in the heavily visited province of
Siem Reap. However, cheap access to the internet through
internet cafes is widespread in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap,
Sihanoukville, and Battambang and a number of internet cafes
may be found in provincial capital cities. The Ministry of
Information controls the issuance of licenses and frequencies
for television and radio stations, and in the past has shown
favor to those applicants that belong to the ruling party.
While all parties have open access to a handful of radio
stations, and at least two parties other than the ruling
party control their own radio networks, post is aware of at
least two cases where popular opposition radio stations have
been consistently denied frequencies in certain areas.
3) (U) WHAT IS THE LEVEL OF PUBLIC INTEREST IN CURRENT
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In general Cambodians have a low level of interest in current
events, but readers love to follow dramatized personal
conflicts among politicians, who can be parodied and
lampooned at will. Most of the Khmer language publications
are tabloid style, both in format and content, and tend to
print sensationalist pieces and police-blotter entries on
their front pages. That being said, stories that have
national implications such as a proposed Anti-Corruption Law,
the national budget, and the border dispute with Thailand
over the Preah Vihear temple are followed religiously and
discussed at every opportunity.
C. OPPOSITION GROUPS:
1) (U) HOW ORGANIZED ARE OPPOSITION OR DISSIDENT GROUPS AND
HOW MANY MEMBERS DO THEY HAVE?
The Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) is the primary opposition party,
established in 1998. Another opposition party, the Human
Rights Party (HRP), just emerged for the 2008 election. The
two opposition parties did not join forces prior to the
election, but have since indicated their intention to work as
an opposition coalition in the National Assembly. The SRP has
a membership numbering in the tens of thousands, and the HRP
in the thousands.
2) (U) WHAT SUPPORT BASE DO OPPOSITION/DISSIDENT GROUPS HAVE
LOCALLY AND INTERNATIONALLY?
The opposition parties, support base is primarily
concentrated in urban areas. While the opposition parties
made inroads into rural areas in the July election, the
ruling party continues to dominate the countryside. There is
also support for the SRP and the HRP from Cambodians living
abroad in France, Australia, and the U.S.
3) (U) WHAT ARE SOME OPPOSITION GRIEVANCES?
Opposition party grievances include corruption,
weak/ineffective law enforcement, weak governance, a lack of
separation powers within the government, and a lack of an
impartial and neutral administration and judiciary.
4) (U) WHERE DO OPPOSITION GROUPS GET THEIR FUNDING?
Opposition groups are funded from contributions paid by local
and overseas members. Active members of HRP have to pay
regular contributions to the party, with the amount varying
depending on one,s rank within the party. Overseas
Cambodians, namely in the United States, Canada, Australia,
and Europe, also financially support opposition parties.
Article 29 of the Political Party Law (PPL) prohibits all
political parties from receiving contributions in any form
from any governmental institutions, associations, non-
governmental organizations, public enterprises, public
establishment, public institute or foreign corporation,
except as stipulated in the law.
5) (U) WHAT LEGISLATION, IF ANY, GOVERNS THEIR ACTIVITIES?
The Political Party Law (PPL) governs political party
activities. The PPL requires all parties register with the
Ministry of Interior prior to engaging in political
activities. Article 8 of the PPL requires registration of a
political party and Article 19, which is related to an
application of a registration, requires a minimum of 4,000
party members to form a political party.