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Constitutional Council, Rescue Party To Meet Over Draft NGO Law

Entrance to the Constitutional Council of Cambodia.
Entrance to the Constitutional Council of Cambodia.

The Constitutional Council will meet with a group of opposition lawmakers on Wednesday over a controversial draft law to regulate NGOs, as it prepares to review the bill and send it to the king to be signed into law.

The bill has been met with widespread opposition from the drafting stage through its swift passage in the National Assembly and Senate; critics fear it will be used to curtail government criticism and create needless red tape for a vast sector of thousands of organizations, some of them critical to the development of health care, education, democracy and human rights in the country.

The meeting between the council and members of the Cambodia National Rescue Party will focus on whether the bill is constitutional.

Prum Nhean Vichet, a spokesman for the Constitutional Council, told VOA Khmer that Pol Lim, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, defended the draft law to the council on Tuesday. Any changes to the draft will be confirmed after Wednesday’s meeting with the Rescue Party delegation, he said.

The Rescue Party in late July issued a 12-page petition to the council, requesting it look at the constitutionality of the bill, which they say restricts basic rights and freedoms. Local rights groups have similarly said the draft is unconstitutional.

Rescue Party lawmaker Son Chhay told VOA Khmer that he and two other legislators will elaborate on these concerns when the delegation meets with the council. “We don’t know what the result will be, but there are some points that clearly indicate some articles will affect [constitutional rights],” he said.

Ros Sopheap, executive director of Gender and Development for Cambodia, said that civil society leaders submitted a letter to King Norodom Sihamoni last week, to express their concerns with the draft, in what she called their last option. “We wanted the king to reconsider the needs of the people, because the king has worked to serve the people,” she said.

Meanwhile, Sak Setha, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, and Eng Chhay Eang, a Rescue Party lawmaker, told reporters that the two parties can work to amend the law after it is passed if it appears to be causing rights violations.