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Tedo parties' betrayal of the struggle for democracy in Cambodia

Tedo parties' betrayal of the struggle for democracy in Cambodia

debate The government’s decision to withdraw aid to Cambodian civil society has devastating consequences for the legal security of citizens, and for the security of human rights defenders and their opportunities to continue their work. Write to representatives of Diakonia, Erikjalben, the SAIF Forum, and the Cambodia Initiative.

The government introduced a new strategic direction for Swedish aid. The goal is still to fight poverty and oppression, but with an emphasis on Swedish interests. At the same time, the reform agenda is said to have a clear focus on democracy and human rights. Despite this, the government has chosen to end aid to Cambodia entirely at the end of 2024.

Cambodia has long moved in an increasingly authoritarian direction, and government human rights violations are on the rise. Freedom of expression has been muzzled. Newspapers and radio stations were silenced. Agricultural land has been confiscated in a large-scale land theft without reasonable compensation. Deforestation has been done without considering the environmental consequences. Union leaders have been imprisoned, and human rights defenders have been threatened and harassed. The political opposition has had its wings clipped, and now the ruling Cambodian People's Party is completely unthreatened. Former Prime Minister Hun Sen undemocratically handed over government powers to his son, Hun Manet.

Aid to civil society, which went primarily to UN bodies and organizations working for democracy, human rights, anti-corruption, and free media, served as an important counterforce. The effects of aid are demonstrated through increased awareness of rights. People dare to raise their voices despite oppression. Today we see how democratic culture is spreading in society.

It is a recognized fact that human rights violations are often an early warning of emerging armed conflicts

The government's decision to withdraw aid to Cambodian civil society has devastating consequences for citizens' legal certainty, and for human rights defenders' safety and opportunities to continue their work. The SIDA office in Phnom Penh will be closed, training for prosecutors at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute must close, and it is uncertain whether the country office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – once established on a Swedish initiative – will be able to continue. International monitoring and reporting of human rights violations is disappearing. The struggle for democracy in Cambodia becomes even more dangerous, where the gradual elimination of aid favors the authoritarian regime and leaves the field open to Chinese and Russian interests. The most vulnerable human rights defenders, the brave heroes, stand alone and isolated.

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Sweden has provided aid to Cambodia for nearly 30 years. Throwing such a long-term investment overboard is irresponsible. H&M has an export value from Cambodia that exceeds the country's exports to China. Sweden must take responsibility for respecting international labor law. The changes will be implemented with only twelve months' notice – twelve months is short for local organizations to try to find alternative sources of funding. No consultations were carried out with affected local organizations or Swedish civil society, without a proper impact analysis. We consider it an irresponsible way to end decades of commitment.

At a time when authoritarian regimes are expanding their influence and even threatening our democracies militarily, supporting communist movement organizations is a cheap investment in counterpower. Moreover, it is an acknowledged fact that magnetic bullet murders often serve as an early warning of emerging armed conflicts. The government says it prioritizes democracy and human rights in aid. TEDO also argues that instead of accepting refugees, we should improve legal certainty and the standard of living in their countries of origin. But in this case the government is acting in contravention of these principles.

We call on Sweden, in the name of morality, to extend Cambodia's phase-out period at least until the end of 2025, and for the government to support, in the EU context, increased aid for democracy and human rights purposes in Cambodia.

Diakonia: Matthias Bronder, Secretary General

For Erikjalben: Anders Malmstegen, International Program Manager

For ForumCiv: Anna Stenfinkel, Secretary General

For the Cambodia Initiative: Asa Erickson, Member of Parliament (S),Bo Forsberg, Former Secretary General DiakoniaMartin Gemsell, Thomas Hammerberg, Former Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rightsjean Axel Nordlander, Former ambassador to Phnom Penhemma noren, Member of Parliament (MP)