Non-governmental agencies and other organizations are preparing to discuss a controversial law on NGOs with the government next week.
Many NGOs say they are worried the law needs corrections lest it be used to crackdown on organizations deemed anti-government. In a joint statement, a group of NGOs said the law in its current form would restrict their work, thanks to barriers for registration and other impediments.
That could lead to restriction on funding sources and hurt long-term development, the groups said.
For example, the draft law calls for complicated registration and the submission of work reports, action plans and change of staff to the Ministry of Interior, all of which could eat up time and resources and become increasingly complicated.
“This draft law has complicated duties and stirs up difficulties to the civil society,” said Yong Kim Eng, president of the People's Center for Development and Peace. “In general, this law seems to manage NGOs and associations, but it is not a law to protect their interests or to provide rights and freedom to civilians to ensure freedom of their activities. In our view, that is worrisome, and we wonder about some points in the law.”
Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc, said some articles of the new law violate the constitution by making it difficult to establish NGOs or associations by citizens.
“It has many conditions, statutes and principles for registration,” he said. “So NGOs and associations in rural areas cannot undertake their activities.”
However, Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the draft was “no better and no worse” than laws in other countries. While some points of the law are worrisome, it would weed out about a third of the countries NGOs, which either do no activities or will have a hard time meeting registration requirements, he said. “I think it is between good and bad,” he said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the government “will receive their good and constructive recommendations for making this law better, but their recommendations must serve the interest of Cambodia and its people.”