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Controversial NGO Law Sent Back for Re-Draft

Ministry officials of Interior will now “review and reconsider” the draft before sending it back a second time to the Council of Ministers for approval.

A contentious law aimed at regulating Cambodia’s non-governmental sector has been sent back to the Ministry of Interior, following international concern that the draft as it stood could damage the country’s development.

The NGO law was approved last month by the Council of Ministers, despite widespread disapproval from local and international organizations, who said provisions in the draft would make it hard for them to operate and could leave them vulnerable to arbitrary punitive action by government officials.

Nouth Sa An, secretary of state for the Ministry of Interior, said the law would not go to the National Assembly as planned but has instead been sent back to the ministry for reconsideration, following international “reaction.”

Ministry officials will now “review and reconsider” the draft before sending it back a second time to the Council of Ministers for approval.

Lam Chea, a legal counselor for the Council of Ministers, confirmed the decision Thursday.

The move was widely welcomed by members of Cambodian civil society, who had worried the law would stifle organizations critical of the government through excessive red tape or court action. Many also worried it would stymie the growth of small-scale associations at the grassroots.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the change of position was a response to intense pressure from donors who help support the country’s health, education and overall development.

“If no NGOs are watching in Cambodia, such as human rights organizations, the donors will not provide aid,” he said.

So Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said the Ministry of Interior must now seriously consider improvements that were offered by NGOs on the first draft but were neglected.

“The draft law has been pulled back,” he said. “We should meet and listen to the ideas of the NGOs, so that the draft law can be accepted and agreed on by both sides. This is a good thing for our society.”

One of the major points of concern for some NGOs was the mandatory registration process in the original draft.

Sin Somony, executive director of Medicam, an umbrella group of medical NGOs, said the new review of the law was good and that “volunteer registration” should be a part of the new law.

“We demand clear meaning and definitions in the draft law,” he added.