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Draft Law Improved But Still Flawed, NGOs Say

NGO groups.
NGO groups.

The Ministry of Interior has released its latest draft of a controversial NGO law to organizations as government and non-government agencies prepare for a discussion next week.

NGO representatives say the new draft is improved over the past version of the law, which was kicked back to the ministry from the Council of Ministers following widespread concern the law would hamper development, which relies heavily on the work of NGOs.

Sok Sam Oeun, head of the Cambodian Defenders Project, a legal organization, said the new draft, which was handed to some groups on Monday, contains many recommendations previously made by NGOs. However, he said, there is still some provisions that are of concern.

Article 5, for example, states that an unregistered organization does not have the legal status it would need to rent an office, open a bank account, hire staff, enter a contract or seek funding from donors.

“I think if there is any organization whose existence or presence is recognized by the law when they are established, the organization should be allowed to operate freely,” Sok Sam Oeun said. “If they do something wrong during their operations, they should be punished by the law. They should not be stopped before they even start.”

NGOs will ask that the article be removed from the draft when they meet government officials on Monday for a formal workshop on the law, he said.

Other concerns include a lack of protection against improper denial of registration; no clear provisions on the formation of social networks, such as those to established to combat human trafficking; and a lack of clarity on community-based organizations that work only locally.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, told VOA Khmer the new draft is improved, but it still is not perfect.

“The law gives too much power to the government or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to restrict the freedom and operation of foreign organizations,” he said.

That could leave some international organizations open to censure or legal action if they conduct operations objectionable to high-power officials, he said.

For example, Article 17 says the Foreign Ministry can terminate agreements with international NGOs if they “jeopardize peace, stability and public order or harm the national security, national unity, culture, customs and traditions of the Cambodian national society.”

Pung Chhiv Kek, president of the rights group Licadho, said another law is not even necessary. The new civil code that comes into effect later this month is enough to regulate NGOs and other organizations, she said.