The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration has received a petition from representatives of various associations, NGOs, civil society organisations (CSOs) and private citizens after they gathered to exchange views at a recently concluded “people’s congress”.
The gathering took place after the Ministry of Interior granted permission to the approximately 700 CSOs and community groups to use Freedom Park in the capital to hold the so-called “People's Assembly”, held from November 1-3, one that only heard from Cambodian speakers as foreigners were not allowed to express opinions during the forum.
In granting permission, the ministry required that they submit the petition to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation through the City Hall.
The petition drawn up by the groups is a wide-ranging document that touches on a variety of topics from food security for the poor to climate change to the impacts of free trade to the rights of sex workers, among others.
City Hall spokesman Meth Meas Pheakdey confirmed to The Post on October 3 that after a smooth and successful meeting with the groups’ representatives, the municipal administration received the petition and would forward it to the foreign ministry and the most relevant institutions.
The petition shows the challenges and to some extent a policy wish list by the people who drew it up the conference. It is intended for submission to the ASEAN leadership through the Cambodian foreign ministry and the government via relevant institutions. And given the scope of subjects the petition covers, it may need to be distributed government-wide.
Chea Sopheak, a representative of the conference organisers, told The Post that the issues in its petition included both domestic and ASEAN issues regarding the food system crisis; free trade impact; land and housing rights; natural resources and climate change; Covid-19 impact; the rights of sex workers; and the role of the arts in society.
He hopes that the Cambodian government and the other ASEAN member states will pay attention to the petition and recommendations.
“We think that the Cambodian authorities as well as the governments of ASEAN member states will receive our petition even though the resolution is still under consideration. These are the ideas of nearly 1,000 people and they are a message. What we have done is fulfil our resolution to make the government and the ASEAN Summit understand,” he said.
According to Sopheak, the people's assembly was held as part of a grassroots movement of social activists from Southeast Asia and around the world to show their solidarity and use their voices to address the nation's and region's leadership, with the expectation that their opinions will be taken into account.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said ASEAN is an intergovernmental organisation with no rights to interfere in the internal affairs of any other country. Therefore, the congress was merely a forum for participants to voice their concerns.
He said there was nothing wrong with having an assembly for sharing ideas and it was legal under Cambodian law, so they are welcome to make use of their right to express their opinions, though he was puzzled by their approach.
“Where did this congress come from? Where did the community organisation come from? It appears that this is nothing more than a meeting of members of the public. How can ASEAN, an intergovernmental organisation, resolve any of their issues?” he asked rhetorically.