In July 2015, Cambodia’s legislature passed a new law designed to regulate the country’s approximately 5,000 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO) was unanimously supported by the ruling party, while the opposition party boycotted the vote and street protests erupted. Prime Minister Hun Sen stated that the law was necessary to track funding sources of NGOs and that orders to disband can be issued to groups if their actions “jeopardize peace, stability and public order or harm the national security, national unity, culture, and traditions of Cambodian society.”
Under LANGO, local organizations working in the areas of advocacy, legal rights and human rights run a higher risk of controversy with the government given the current political context. 2016 saw a number of troubling developments in the field of human rights in Cambodia, including a crackdown on dissenting voices and the arrest of five human rights defenders that spent 14 months in prison without a trial. In order to safeguard their important work, it is imperative these organizations employ procedures to enhance oversight and accountability. The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) is doing just that as part of the Capacity Building of Cambodia’s Local Organizations (CBCLO) Program implemented by International Executive Service Corps (IESC) and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA).
CCHR works to protect the people of Cambodia by monitoring human rights violations and the democratic process, advocating for policy and legislative changes necessary to the promotion of human rights, and empowering activists and communities to advocate for their rights. CCHR was previously struggling to effectively implement its program activities in the absence of written guidelines and procedures for purchasing goods and services. Its finance and administration policy manual, in particular, lacked clear directions and protocols on topics such as travel reimbursement for their clients—survivors of human rights abuses—who visit the organization for guidance on legal recourse. Because of CCHR’s work in the legal advocacy space, it is monitored and watched closely by the government for operational lapses, and/or misconduct.
In 2014, the CBCLO Program extended its support to Kalina Khan, CCHR director of finance and administration, and her team. By providing one-on-one technical assistance, the CBCLO team helped the organization develop a comprehensive procurement policy for the organization. The CBCLO field staff also helped strengthen the organization’s existing finance and administration policy by incorporating clear guidelines on procedures for travel authorization, processing of payment for their clients and staff timesheet recording.
CCHR has since seen tremendous improvement in the operations of the organization, and are now compliant with USAID policies on procurement and finance. Through compliance with such policies, the organization is now confident that its activities, although monitored by the government, are unquestionably free from fraud and mismanagement. Kalina Khan said, “Strong guidelines allow us more time to better help our at-risk beneficiaries… After CBCLO’s assistance, we feel confident and secure in handling our daily operations. This new system has greatly cut down [our operational expenses and] our confusion on operational matters.”