International human rights groups on Friday issued a statement urging donors to have Cambodia abandon a draft law to regulate NGOs, despite numerous rewrites and in the face of ongoing concern it could hamper rights and development.
Eleven groups, including Human Rights Watch and Global Witness, said the law would restrict basic freedoms of assembly and subject NGOs to arbitrary closure by powerful officials.
“The Cambodian government is pressing forward with a draft law which grants it broad authority to make arbitrary decisions about which groups can operate and which cannot,” Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said.
The Ministry of Interior recently completed another draft of the law, one required by the Council of Ministers after it rejected the first version under intense international criticism.
Yap Swee Seng, executive director for the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, said in a statement the newest version of the law could be used to “root out” international NGOs that are critical of the government.
The groups urged international donors to use their leverage to extend the consultation period on the draft with the government and local organizations.
Sean McIntosh, a spokesman for the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, said the US “strongly believes that a strong, independent, and diverse civil society is indispensable to democracy and to Cambodia’s continued development.”
“We therefore urge the Royal Government of Cambodia to consider the views expressed by donors and civil society and refrain from passing any new law that restricts rather than enhances the important role of civil society in Cambodia,” he said.
While France “acknowledged efforts made by Cambodian government” to revise the draft law, “some issues remain to be clarified,” Laurence Bernardi, a spokeswoman for the French Embassy, said in an e-mail. “But we’re confident that over the coming days NGO representatives and the government will work jointly in order to fine-tune the text.”
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the draft law cannot be fully abandoned as it is required by the constitution. However, some opponents to the law have said there are enough provisions in the civil code to handle illegalities of organizations and associations.