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International Experts Add to Worries on NGO Law

Mr. Lun Borithy, Executive Director of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, at the Washington, DC office of Oxfam America to discuss the proposed NGO law on August 12, 2011.

Development experts warn that the government’s draft law on NGOs remains restrictive and will hamper future development if it is not corrected.

“The law is still problematic and the comments that were brought forward by the NGO community and associations, some of them were not entirely picked up,” said Borithy Lon, executive director of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, a consortium of non-governmental agencies.

Borithy Lon said those concerns include provisions for registration, which must be completed before an organization can operate in the country, making it open to government interpretation. The draft is also unclear on punishments for NGOs and recourse for legal action against them, he said.

The NGO law moved to the Council of Ministers for approval in July, after which it must be debated by the National Assembly and the Senate.

Throughout the draft process, a number of NGOs warned the law contains regulations that leave it open to political manipulation against organizations that run counter to government interests.

Oxfam America said in a statement Friday that the third draft of the law, which ignores many recommendations from the development sector, does not respond to Cambodia’s development needs.

The law could create a reluctance of investors and donors to put funding into the country, said Gregory Adams, director of aid effectiveness for the organization.

“Cambodia has been making significant progress in recent years,” he said. “It’s starting to take a bigger role on the world stage, but if this law goes forward as it is now...we’re really concerned about a lot of that progress coming to a halt or being slowed.”

Sue Gunawardena Vaughn, Southeast Asia program manager for Freedom House, agreed. A similar law restricting NGO freedom in Ethiopia led to slowed development, she said.

The law will put Cambodia at a “crossroads,” she said, and lawmakers now must decide which way they want to take the country.