In an open letter to Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, 100 organizations from Cambodia warn that withdrawing Swedish support risks further deteriorating the human rights situation, while at the same time strengthening Russia’s and China’s influence in the region.
“Reconsider the decision, or give us a longer time frame so that we can have time to replace the Swedish funding,“ the organizations write.
In 2021, Sweden closed its embassy in Cambodia. As a result, the diplomatic presence disappeared and support for the country became part of the regional strategy. In 2023, aid to Cambodia amounted to just over SEK 145 million. The government’s appropriation directions for Sida (2024) mean that aid to Cambodia will be completely phased out after 2024.
The organisations are now warning of the consequences that the withdrawn support risks having:
This will further restrict human rights, hamper the rule of law and increase corruption and impunity, which directly affects Sweden’s goal of increasing the synergy between development cooperation and trade.
The organizations also highlight the fact that Sweden risks leaving the field open for Russia and China in yet another of the world’s countries:
Sweden’s decision to phase out Sida’s funding of Cambodia will also leave a vacuum in the country that will be filled by geopolitical actors such as China and Russia, whose interests may not align with Sweden’s, affecting Sweden’s efforts to strengthen Cambodia’s economic growth. Sweden is acutely aware of the need for an increasingly interconnected world to support those who stand up for democracy before it is too late.
Of the total budget for Cambodia of approximately SEK 145 million(2023), approximately SEK 60 million goes to civil society organisations that primarily work with human rights. The largest recipient is Diakonia (approx. 25 million in 2023), which supports a large number of local organizations in the country. One of the organisations that will now be affected is the youth movement Mother Nature (2023 Right Livelihood Award laureate) which has received training through local partners.
”The consequence is that many organizations will have to completely close down, which will greatly weaken the work for human rights in Cambodia at a time when the situation is getting worse,” says Mattias Brunander, Secretary General of Diakonia.
He believes that the fact that the situation in the country is not improving is taken as an excuse by the government to phase out the funding, and say that Swedish support is not doing any good:
“But with such reasoning, they don’t understand the role that the civil society is playing in the resistance against totalitarian forces, while at the same time they are leaving the field open to Russian and Chinese interests. That is why continued support is so important”.
The organisations conclude their letter with the following:
As the leader of the Swedish government and supporter of international cooperation among democrats, we urge you to reconsider the decision to suspend Sida’s funding of Cambodian civil society organizations by the end of 2024 or give us a realistic and longer timeframe to replace the Swedish funding to reduce serious consequences and harm to the Cambodians we serve.