The US-based Freedom House has echoed concerns from local groups that a draft law to regulate NGOs could have a detrimental effect on the country’s development.
In a statement issued Friday, Freedom House, a global watchdog for democratic principles, said the new NGO law “contains provisions that place troubling restrictions on the ability of NGOs to organize and function effectively.”
The statement comes as local groups say talks with the government over the law have yielded few changes to the draft, creating unease within the sector that the law can hamper NGO work.
Proponents of the law say it will regulate a large sector and have dismissed concerns the law will be abused to make work harder for groups that don’t see eye to eye with the government.
“The proposed law, in its current form, undermines the very basis of an independent and vibrant civil society and would have a chilling effect on democratic development in the country,” Paula Schriefer, Freedom House director of advocacy said in the statement. “These regulations should not be used as a tool to undermine fundamental freedoms related to association, expression, and assembly. Such rights are protected under the Cambodian Constitution and under the international treaties to which the Royal Government of Cambodia is a signatory.”
NGO officials met with the ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs last week, where they raised concerns over the latest draft of the law, which they said did not take into account their main concerns.
“In general we still have our worried points,” Sin Somony, executive director of the umbrella group Medicam, told VOA Khmer on Monday. NGOs have submitted their recommendations to the government, he said.
Those concerns include provisions in the draft that bans activities of organizations not registered with the government, Freedom House said.
“The draft is also vague in scope and contains ambiguous language that could make it easier for the government to arbitrarily shut down civil society groups or deny registration,” the group said. “Additionally, the current draft has no option for an appeals process—which had been present in the original version—leaving an organization with no recourse once it has been rejected by the government.”
Nouth Sa An, secretary of state for the Interior Ministry, said Monday the NGO recommendations have been forwarded to the draft law working group and that no more consultations with NGOs will be conducted before the draft is finalized and sent to the Council of Ministers for approval.