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Government Rushes Forward on Second NGO Law

The Cambodian government is moving forward with a review workshop for a controversial NGO law next week, despite calls from rights groups and others who say they need time to review the latest draft version.

The government will hold a workshop on Dec. 19, but local organizations have said that will not give them enough time to review the draft for problems.

This is the second time the Ministry of Interior has had to draft the law. The first version was sent back to them from the Council of Minsters, following widespread criticism from the international community that the regulatory law could hamper the country’s development.

However, local organizations say the law could still create problems if they are not able to thoroughly review it and give suggestions on its improvement.

“What are they concerned about?” said Nuth Sa An, secretary of state for the Ministry of Interior, told VOA Khmer Thursday. “When the time comes, they will be given the draft, and until the 19th they should have enough time to review it.” He said an invitation would be sent out to NGOs this week.

Civil society leaders have said they would need at least a month to properly review the law. The previous draft contained provisions that they warned would mire organizations in red tape and leave them vulnerable to arbitrary legal measures and closure.

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director for the Cambodian Defenders Project, a prominent organization, said he had no knowledge of the Dec. 19 meeting.

“We used to be informed well ahead of time and given summaries of laws and left room to analyze them,” he said. “I don’t know what the purpose of this meeting is. I have no clue.”

US Embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh said the process should involve input from civil society.

“The embassy’s point of view is that we believe in an NGO law that can facilitate a vibrant and diverse civil society that will allow them to freely operate, rather than restricted operation,” he said.