In war zones and disaster areas around the world, the Red Cross is often seen as a beacon of hope for populations struggling to come to terms with catastrophe. But it now stands accused of acting as a state-sponsored “humanitarian wing” of the Cambodian government, violating its own policy of impartiality. Global Witness, a London-based corruption watchdog, has called for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to expel the Cambodian Red Cross (CRC). In a report released on Wednesday, the NGO alleged the CRC is “used by [Prime Minister Hun Sen] and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) for political gain”, violating the CRC’s fundamental principles of neutrality and independence. “[The CRC] does little to hide its political allegiance”, reads the report. “It functions as a microcosm of Hun Sen’s patronage system and its central committee comprises many of the Hun family’s business associates, CPP officials and their family members.” Hun Sen’s wife, Bun Rany, is the CRC president and critics point to a speech she gave in 2013 as evidence of this overlap. “When there are floods ... [you] have seen that there is no other party coming to help you,” she said. “There is only the CPP, because all civil servants are CPP.” Patrick Alley, co-founder of Global Witness, insisted the problematic connections between the aid organisation and the ruling party extend beyond Bun Rany. “The IFRC’s core principles [include] impartiality, neutrality and independence,” he said. “However, the CRC’s president is Hun Sen’s wife, Bun Rany and the board is packed full of political and business elites closely associated to a regime characterised by corruption and the brutal suppression of political opposition, including murder, torture and arbitrary imprisonment.” Sebastian Strangio, author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia claims the CRC “functions as a conduit for Hun Sen’s patronage”. Cambodian PM Hun Sen ‘amassing vast personal fortunes’ with trade links to Visa, Apple and Honda, report claims “Its donations come from government officials and CPP-linked tycoons ... the CRC [is] ... the humanitarian wing of the ruling party,” he said. The CRC has denied the allegations levelled against it. “Our strategy and development plans are publically available, reviewed by independent consultants, and aligned with the values of the IFRC,” said Men Neary Sopheak, the CRC’s first deputy secretary general. Sopheak insisted the CRC is “auxiliary to the government”. This refers to the Red Cross’s mandate to “support the public authorities in their humanitarian tasks”, according to IFRC statutes. This means the Red Cross can be expected to be more intertwined with government than other aid organisations as long as “national societies ... maintain their autonomy”. However, six of the CRC board members are tycoons and ohknas – an honorific title conferred upon those who contribute US$100,000 to the CPP. The Global Witness report noted that: “Between 2006 and 2009, the CRC’s income was US$20 million, 71 per cent of which came from domestic sources including Hun Sen and tycoons linked to his family.” Cambodia’s Hun Sen denies buying up Facebook ‘likes’ The report lists several donations including “US$281,000 from Pheapimex Fd. Raising which is presumably linked to the company Pheapimex Group owned by CPP-Senator Lao Meng Khin.” Sopheak acknowledged the board can veto or suggest changes to the CRC’s strategy but said they “always accept the recommendations of the management”. “The board does not influence our activities or projects,” explained Sopheak. “They only meet once a year for matters of governance.” The IFRC was asked to weigh in on the issue but declined.