Despite widespread concern it could curtail pro-democracy and rights work in the country, a bill to regulate NGOs in Cambodia arrived at the National Assembly Tuesday, where it must be debated before its likely passage into law.
International and local rights groups, as well as diplomats, have said the law is not necessary and could be used as a tool to hamper the work of organizations critical of the government.
National Assembly spokesman Chheang Vun told VOA Khmer the draft has arrived at the Assembly, but it will take some time for committees to review it.
In an analysis of a leaked copy of the draft, which has not been made public, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights said the bill contains concerning provisions on founding and registering NGOs and their independence.
Chak Sopheap, executive director of the organization, said the draft contains “serious restrictions” on civil society organizations that will affect their ability to work freely in the country. “And it will violate NGOs’ rights to participate in politics,” she said.
US Ambassador William Todd, who has voiced his support of public dialogue on the draft, said in a recent column that Cambodian lawmakers should focus their attention on other, more pertinent matters.
“Rather than making a new NGO law the top priority, which I believe is not needed, the National Assembly could consider addressing poverty, education, health care and environmental protection,” Todd wrote in a Sunday column. “However, improving the rule of law, which encompasses a broad range of topics that would ultimately benefit Cambodian citizens, is an area where both parties could work together.”
Chheang Vun, who is a lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, called Todd’s comments “insolent.”