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Suspension of prominent land rights NGO confirms civil society fears over forthcoming NGO law

(CCHR/IFEX) - Phnom Penh, 12 August 2011 - On 11 August 2011, it was confirmed that the Ministry of Interior (the "MOI") had suspended a well-known land rights non-governmental organization ("NGO"), Sahmakum Teang Tnaut ("STT"), which has been critical of government-backed evictions, most notably the rehabilitation of a railway link that could displace thousands of poor families. According to "The Cambodia Daily", the Secretary of State for the MOI, Nuth Sa An, confirmed that the MOI had sent STT a letter several weeks ago ordering the NGO to suspend work because it had apparently failed to heed government warnings regarding a violation that it had allegedly committed. Nuth Sa An declined to say what the violation was.

STT has for several years spoken out against land evictions in both the capital, Phnom Penh, and in rural areas. Most recently, STT has been one of the more vocal critics of government plans to rehabilitate a dilapidated rail link connecting Phnom Penh with Thailand: it slammed the Royal Government of Cambodia and donors for failing to consider adequately the thousands of families who live alongside the railway and who face displacement as a result of the railway rehabilitation. On 4 July 2011, STT released a report titled "Rehabilitation of Cambodia's Railways: Comparison of Field Data", which reports findings of "systematic downgrading of structure types leading to lower compensation rates" owed to home owners affected by the railway rehabilitation, as well as "a higher number of affected households" than officially reported by the government's Inter-Ministerial Resettlement Committee.

In connection with the length of the suspension it has been reported that no specific period has been set but that STT will be able to seek re-registration when the controversial Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (the "LANGO") comes into force. The LANGO, now awaiting approval at the Council of Ministers, has been widely criticized both because of its imposition of registration on grassroots movements and community-based organizations - with all the onerous registration and documentation requirements that go with it - and because of the lack of transparency in the assessment process. Fears that advocacy NGOs could be a target of the LANGO were prematurely realized with the suspension of STT.

On 11 August 2011, 30 Cambodian NGOs - including CCHR - issued a joint statement condemning the suspension, saying that there is no valid or legal basis for it.

Download the joint civil society statement:
Cambodia_Joint_civil_society_statement.pdf (65 KB)

Download the CCHR Fact Sheet on the STT suspension:
Cambodia_CCHR_Case_Study_Factsheet_STT_Eng.pdf (482 KB)

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