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Groups Unite To Push Changes to NGO Law

Cambodian NGOs at a social forum.
Cambodian NGOs at a social forum.

More than 300 local and international organizations have now joined cause in opposition to a controversial draft law to regulate NGOs.

The groups said in a statement the law threatens civic freedoms and could curtail the activities of NGOs that are critical to the development of the country.

“NGOs and Associations stand ready to use our democratic rights to express our discontent through democratic and peaceful means,” the groups said. “The draft law we now see before us is unacceptable, and we cannot support it in its current form.”

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other major international groups have called on the government to spike the law entirely, and US officials say they fear it is “unnecessary” and could curb basic freedoms.

Government supporters of the law, which is being drafted by the Ministry of Interior, say it is necessary to regulate a huge sector, where thousands of NGOs operate.

Opponents say the draft opens organizations to legal attack without redress for government dissent and could hurt smaller groups that want to form associations.

“We would like to point out three main areas of concern in the current second draft Law,” the groups said in their joint statement. “Registration is mandatory and complex, rather than voluntary and simple. There is no appeal process for the denial of registration and key terms in the law are left undefined, and many sections are vague.”

“I think that it can affect the freedom in the establishment of associations that is guaranteed by the constitution and the freedom in expression that is guaranteed by the constitution,” said Sok Samoeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project.

NGOs say their recommendations made during a consultative process were not given credence and that new drafts did not address their concerns.

In their statement, the 300 groups did not call for a scrapping of the law altogether, but urged the government to “reconsider” their key requests and redraft the law.

Nouth Sa An, secretary of state for the Ministry of Interior, said he was accepting recommendations before sending the draft for approval from Interior Minister Sar Kheng. After that, the law will be sent to the Council of Ministers for approval before debate.