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UN Envoy Calls on Senate To ‘Reject Entirely’ Law on NGOs

Heng Samrin, president of Cambodia's National Assembly is seen in this TV screen picture during a session to pass the controversial NGO law on Monday, July 13, 2015. (Neou Vannarin/VOA Khmer)

A UN envoy has issued a statement calling for the Senate to reject a contentious law to regulate NGOs that has already passed through the first house of parliament.

The National Assembly passed the bill earlier this month, despite widespread opposition from pro-democracy and rights groups and the international community, before it was passed on to the Senate for debate.

In an open letter to the Senate, Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of assembly and association, urged lawmakers to reject a bill that “falls significantly short of international human rights norms governing freedom of association, in particular Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Cambodia acceded in 1992.”

Kiai, who is also the executive director of the International Council on Human Rights Policy, said the law was meant to intimidate activists and could have a disastrous impact on the ability of citizens to take part in democracy.

That the draft was not publicly discussed in its creation was also a problem, he said. “Transparency, public participation and accountability are the bedrock of any legislative process in a democratic society,” he said.

The European Union, too, has expressed regret for the passing of the draft through the National Assembly, where it was approved by 68 ruling party lawmakers without debate and despite a boycott by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.

“The law touches on sensitive issues requiring in-depth consultation of all stakeholders,” Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said in a statement. “Regrettably, a number of important concerns were not sufficiently taken into consideration. The law has the potential to considerably restrict the activity of NGOs.”

Um Sarith, a spokesman for the Senate, declined to comment on either statement.