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US Ambassador Calls on Government to Release Draft NGO Law

U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia William E. Todd gives a speech during a repatriation ceremony to honor the recovery of possible remains believed to belong to missing U.S. military service members found in Kampong Cham province, file photo.

Government officials say they are moving forward with a law to regulate the NGO sector, despite widespread fears such legislation could be used to punish dissent.

The Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations is currently in the hands of the Ministry of Interior, which is finalizing it for approval by the Council of Ministers and debate by the National Assembly.

On Sunday, US Ambassador William Todd called for the draft to be made public, so that others with a stake in its approval can comment on it—a move applauded by rights groups, who fear the new law could be used to clamp down on basic freedoms.

An open civil society is necessary for “prosperity, as well as human rights,” Todd wrote in an opinion in the Cambodia Herald. The prospect of this law and others is potentially damaging to Cambodia’s reputation, he said

“Today, Cambodia’s image is affected by the draft NGO law and other legislation under discussion, such as the cybercrime law and the pending trade union law,” Todd wrote. “As the Cambodian government considers the next steps, it is important to realize that the world is watching.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the law has already been discussed with civil society and it is now being finalized. Prime Minister Hun Sen has said he wants the law drafted by the end of May.

However, Am Sam Ath, monitoring supervisor for the rights group Licadho, agreed with the ambassador, saying it should be publicly reviewed and adding that the current draft law is “just pressure to restrict the work of NGOs in Cambodia.”