The US issued its annual Human Rights Report last week, voicing concern among other things about an impending law to regulate NGOs.
US Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner told reporters in Washington on Friday the law will make it harder for civil society to operate and could run counter to the nation’s constitution.
Cambodia is among some 90 other countries that have adopted laws or regulations that will potentially curtail rights of civic organizations, he said.
“It is, to me, in some ways emblematic of this trend that I talked about, where governments are not happy with their critics, and so they decide to make it difficult or impossible for them to operate,” he said at the release of the report.
Numerous local rights groups and international organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called for the government to drop the draft law, which is being prepared by the Ministry of Interior for approval by the Council of Ministers.
Critics say the law will erode development progress Cambodia has made over the past 20 years by opening groups to potential legal attacks with little redress and by making it hard for small groups to form.
Koy Kuong, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told VOA Khmer the law will not restrict freedoms, “but will ensure smooth implementation of civil society’s work.”
“This will ensure better cooperation between the government and civil society groups,” he said. “There is no reason to take it out.”
The law is not the only concern of the US in its 42-page report on Cambodia, which also cites arbitrary killings by security forces, forced evictions and limited freedoms as cause for concern.
The report highlights the abuse of the courts against members of the opposition, including a lawsuit brought against Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua by Prime Minister Hun Sen, and weighty charges of disinformation against self-exiled party leader Sam Rainsy.
“The fact that the criminal justice system is not as independent as it could be, and the fact that the government is not comfortable with dissent, whether it’s political opposition or the human rights types…these are concerns for us,” Posner said Friday.
Koy Kuong defended the government’s rights record as good “overall.”
“Despite some problems,” he said, “we are steadily moving forward and improving.”