Letter to Swedish PM Ulf Kristersson from Cambodian organizations

News - 2024-01-24
The Swedish government has decided to suspend its development aid to Cambodia. Now, 100 Cambodian civil society organizations are writing an open letter to Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in which they warn that important work for democracy, human rights and freedom of expression is threatened.
Workers from the food, service, and entertainment sectors participate in the gathering outside the National Assembly on International Labour Day 2023. Their banners ask for consideration of labour rights across all sectors.
Workers gather outside the National Assembly on International Labour Day 2023. Their banners ask for consideration of labour rights across all sectors. Photo: LICADHO


The decision to phase out aid will have devastating and immediate consequences for civil society in Cambodia. Human rights organizations, organizations that work for trade union rights and against corruption, as well as grassroots organizations that fight against land grabbing, will all have to cut back on their activities, the Cambodian organizations write.

 people who protest and defend their rights are subjected to threats and violence

Increasingly authoritarian country

Aid is needed more than ever. Cambodia has moved in an increasingly authoritarian direction and violations of civil liberties have steadily increased. Trade union leaders and opposition politicians have been imprisoned, media houses and radio stations have been shut down, people who protest and defend their rights are subjected to threats and violence.

The decision is a hard hit for civil society 

Since 2020, Swedish aid to Cambodia has focused on strengthening respect for human rights, supporting democracy and the rule of law, that treats all citizens equally before the law. Sida's development cooperation in the country has only been carried out in cooperation with civil society organisations and other non-state actors, such as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNESCO. The government's appropriation letter to Sida, which came just before Christmas, states that aid to Cambodia will be completely withdrawn after 2024.

The decision to phase out support to Cambodia will affect over 30 organizations and multilateral institutions and harm tens of thousands of Cambodians, who have seen Sweden as a reliable partner in the promotion of human rights, democracy, equality, the strengthening of young people and the rule of law, the organizations write in their letter.

The organisations also point out that the decision is not in line with Sweden's new goal of increasing the synergy between development cooperation and trade.

Contrary to synergies with trade

The organisations also point out that the decision is not in line with Sweden's new goal of increasing the synergy between development cooperation and trade. For example, H&M has a large production in Cambodia with a large export value. Sweden should instead be actively involved in ensuring that international labour law and trade union rights are respected in the country.

In a situation in Cambodia where democratic principles and rights are increasingly threatened, it should be crucial to continue to support civil society in its important role as counterforces. These organisations are needed to monitor the increasing threats against human rights and environmental defenders in the absence of a credible and independent judiciary in the country.

En medlem av Trapeang Chour-kommunen i Kampong Speu-provinsen vid ett IHRD-evenemang den 8 december 2023 håller en skylt som lyder: "Stoppa juridiska anklagelser mot landsamhällen"
A member of the Trapeang Chour commune in Kampong Speu province at an IHRD event on 8 December 2023 holds a sign that reads: “Stop legal charges against land communities”. Photo: LICADHO, who coordinated the open letter.

Request to not withdraw the development aid

The organisations conclude the letter with a request to Ulf Kristersson:

As the head of the Swedish government and supporter of international cooperation among democrats, we call on you to reconsider the decision to suspend Sida’s funding for Cambodian civil society organisations at the end of 2024 or give us a realistic and longer timeframe to replace Swedish funding to reduce serious consequences and harm to the Cambodians we serve.
 

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