The controversial draft law to regulate NGOs in Cambodia has been sent to the Constitutional Council, where it must be reviewed before it is signed into law. The National Assembly passed the draft earlier this month, and the Senate approved it last Friday without any changes.
The bill has been widely criticized by international and local pro-democracy and rights groups who fear it will be used to shut down government criticism in a sector that is desperately needed by most Cambodians for essential services like health care and education.
Senate spokesman Mam Buneang said the law will provide accountability and transparency of spending for NGOs and associations. The law will not impinge on the rights of such groups, he said. “In fact, we hold all associations and organizations to become legal entities and offer them the right and freedom in taking legal responsibilities.”
As they did with the National Assembly vote on the bill, members of the Cambodia National Rescue Party boycotted the vote in the Senate.
Soeung Saroeun, executive director of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, an NGO, said he did not believe the Constitutional Council would send the bill back to the legislature, a move that would be “rare.”
Civil society organizations are now appealing to King Norodom Sihanouk, whose signature is required for the bill to become a law, to reject it in its current form, he said.