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US Warns of 'Freedom' Concerns in NGO Draft Law

Cambodian NGOs at a social forum.
Cambodian NGOs at a social forum.

The US Embassy in Phnom Penh says it is concerned a new NGO law under consideration by the government will restrict freedoms within the public and should be reconsidered.

“We strongly urge the Royal Government of Cambodia to reconsider whether the draft NGO law is in fact necessary and, if so, to adopt and implement a law consistent with a commitment to expand, rather than restrict, the freedom for civil society organizations to operate,” embassy spokesman Mark Wenig told VOA Khmer Thursday.

The law, which was examined by NGOs and government officials in meetings this week, seeks to tighten regulations on non-governmental agencies through stricter registration and reporting processes and high bars for organization.

Some NGOs say they fear the law will be used as a tool of repression against anti-government groups.

“The US strongly believes that a strong, independent, and diverse civil society community is indispensable to democracy and to Cambodia’s continued development,” Wenig said. “We’re engaged in close consultations with our association and NGO partners about this law's possible impact on their activities.”

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance and other regional rights groups issued a statement Thursday say they were “deeply troubled” by the law, saying it could give excessive power to the government.

“We believe the Cambodian government needs to sustain the support of these non-governmental organizations, both local and international, which so far have been an indispensible social force to strengthen the country's fragile civil society and democracy,” the statement said.

Nouth Saan, secretary of state for the Ministry of Interior, which is responsible for the draft, said NGO and other recommendations would be considered.