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Rights Groups Warily Eye Proposed Law

Local human rights groups on Monday expressed concern over Prime Minister Hun Sen’s push to pass a law to monitor and restrict the work of non-governmental agencies, following the ruling party’s widened control of state power.

Hun Sen told his new cabinet on Friday the government should push to adopt the so-called “NGO law” to monitor the financial status and payment methods for Cambodia’s non-governmental organizations.

The law would help prevent funding from “terrorist organizations,” Hun Sen said.

Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party began a new mandate last week, with an overwhelming 90 of 123 National Assembly seats, control of all cabinet ministries, and a large majority of high-level positions.

A draft NGO law was written by the Ministry of Interior in 2006 and must now be approved by the Council of Ministers before it is voted on by the National Assembly. It would then be revised by the Senate and signed by the king into law.

Rights workers said on Monday the law could be abused to keep non-governmental organizations out of politics.

Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc, told VOA Khmer Monday his group was concerned about “pressure” on the activities of rights groups, especially the monitoring of their finances and their work in politics.

“I’m simply wondering if this is the beginning of the closure of democracy in Cambodia,” he said. “The development of the situation from now on, where is it moving? Will it have positive development, or not, in the plural democratic process and the respect of human rights? Will it move forward or backwards?”

Sok Samoeun, president of the Cambodia Defenders Project, said Monday a monitoring law was unnecessary.

“Thousands of NGOs in Cambodia stay within the law already,” he said. “If any NGO operates outside its own statutes, the government has the right to close down or eliminate that NGO.”

“I believe that the law will restrict NGO work,” he said. “I am not interested in that law. The law is not necessary. It is not a priority.”

Hun Sen said Friday many non-governmental agencies, including human rights groups, have criticized the government merely to gain more financial assistance. The law would not hurt the processes of human rights and democracy, he said, but would strengthen the rule of law.

“We don’t make strong pressure,” he said. “But NGOs must have laws to control them.”