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UN Rights Envoy Cautions Against NGO Law

Surya Subedi, U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, speaks during a press conference in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011, concluding his 10-day mission to Cambodia. In a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva Thursday

The UN’s special envoy for human rights, Surya Subedi, has added his voice to growing concerns that a government law to regulate NGOs should not go forward as currently drafted.

International and local rights groups and other organizations say the NGO law would restrict the activities of organizations and make them vulnerable to arbitrary political manipulation, which would be a blow to development. Cambodia has an estimated 3,000 NGOs and associations.

In a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva Thursday, Subedi said the law should be carefully reviewed and, as it stands, “may hamper the legitimate work of NGOs in the country.”

One draft of the law was already kicked back to the Ministry of Interior for more work, despite approval from the Council of Ministers, following a near-unanimous outcry from the country’s development organizations and partners.

Subedi said Cambodia itself has the sovereign right to decide on the law, but he said the country’s leaders should consider the long-term impact on development in Cambodia if such a law were passed.

Development organizations form the backbone of the country’s civil society, which helps the government in “education, health, rural development, sanitation, social welfare and the protection of natural resources and the environment,” he said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Subedi’s statements were “late,” because the draft law is under further review.

The ministry will make some compromises in the new draft, including suggestions from civil society, before sending the draft for a second approval by the Council of Ministers, he said.