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Meeting Over NGO Law Fails To Ease Concerns

Chun SakadaVOA Khmer

Members of civil society met with government officials on Monday over the latest version of a contentious law to regulate NGOs, but many said at the end of the day the draft is still flawed.

Monday’s meeting was meant to solicit recommendations from local and international NGOs before the draft is sent to the Council of Ministers for approval for parliamentary debate and passage.

Ou Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the latest version of the law, which was kicked back to the Ministry of Interior in October for revision, has three main points of concern.

The law still contains complicated registration procedures, a requirement to sign an agreement with the government, and could still hamper the activities of smaller grassroots organizations, he said.

“The meaning of registration seems unclear,” he said. “The language is not clear, and we are just worried the authorities will not fairly implement this law and that the authorities will use this as a pretext to interpret the meaning of the law for wrongdoing.”

Critics of the law have long worried it could be used by powerful government officials to curb the activities of organizations they deem as troublesome.

Yeng Virak, executive director for the Community Legal Education Center, said the complicated process could make it difficult for small organizations to legally register, as well.

“It violates rights and freedoms [of assembly] guaranteed by the constitution,” he said.

Ou Virak also pointed to a provision in the law requiring international NGOs to sign a memorandum of understanding with the government over their operations, which could restrict their work, especially those that advocate for better human rights and democratic improvements.

Ahead of Monday’s meeting, many NGO leaders said they were not given enough time to review the draft and make proper recommendations.

Nuth Sa An, secretary of state for the Ministry of Interior, said at the meeting organizations have one week to submit recommendations before another meeting is held.

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