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Contentious Draft Law on NGOs Nearing Completion

A press conference led by senior officials of the European Union on the controversial Draft Law on the Association and Non-Governmental Organization on Friday May 22, 2015. (Photo: Neou Vannarin/ VOA Khmer)

A contentious draft law to govern the activities of NGOs and other groups in Cambodia is likely to be completed in coming days, despite major opposition from local and international rights groups and calls from the diplomatic community for more public discussion.

Officials from the Ministry of Interior say the law will be sent to the Council of Ministers for approval this week or next, after which it will be sent to the National Assembly for debate.

Critics of the law say it will give the government too much control over the activities of NGOs, burdening them with red tape and potentially silencing government dissent.

Diplomats, including the US ambassador, have called on the government to make the draft public and to have more discussion before it is finalized.

However, Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the law had been open to consultation in 2011 and was now being finalized for approval. “It could be this week or next week,” he said.

The ministry issued a statement Monday saying the draft law is not meant to put pressure on NGOs but instead complies with international norms and Cambodia’s constitution.

But rights groups and others say they have not seen the latest version of the draft, and they worry how it might have changed since 2011.

“We are not sure how much the government has taken into consideration our concerns from the last consultation,” Sok Sam Oeun, a legal expert, told VOA Khmer.

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for the rights group Licadho, said the ministry’s statement Monday was merely a way of “avoiding criticism from the NGOs.”