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EU Official Joins Calls for Publicizing Contentious NGO Law

Senior officials of the European Union talked to reporters during a press conference on Friday May 22, 2015, calling the government to open the floor for dialogue and public debate on the Draft Law on the Association and the Non-Governmental Organization (LANGO). (Photo: Neou Vannarin/VOA Khmer)

A senior European Union diplomat on Friday joined widespread calls for the government to make public a contentious draft law to govern NGOs in the country.

Speaking after a four-day mission to Cambodia, Silvio Gonzato, the EU’s top diplomat for human rights and democracy, said he was concerned about the draft law, which could create pressure on NGOs and restrict their work.

The law should not impose excessive burdens on NGOs or “arbitrary elements” for registration, Gonzato told reporters Friday. “There should be a certain degree of legal security.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen has said he wants the law drafted by the end of May, but critics say it is unnecessary, and they fear it will deter civil society organizations from criticizing the government.

“Cambodia has a vibrant civil society,” Gonzato said. “This should be seen as an asset, which is not a threat.”

Cambodia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs this week lambasted UN officials for interfering in Cambodian affairs, for critical comments on the draft, as well the US ambassador, for his suggestion in a newspaper column that the draft be made public.

Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, which is drafting the law, said it does not aim to restrict the work of NGOs, which he called “government partners.”

The ministry is taking into account comments from civil society, he said, and the law will likely be finished next week.