‘No Rewrite’ For Draft Law

The Cambodian government says a proposed law regulating NGOs will proceed unchanged.

2011-04-07
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amnesty305.jpg An Amnesty International official talks to residents of a slum village in Phnom Penh, Feb. 11, 2008.
AFP

Cambodia will not abandon a controversial draft law regulating nongovernmental organizations despite increased pressure from influential international groups, a high-ranking ministry official in charge of drafting the legislation said Thursday.

Nuth San An, state secretary of the Interior Ministry, told reporters the Cambodian government would not back down from its plan to push the law forward.

“No, we will not rewrite the draft law. What are the restrictions [the organizations] are talking about?” he asked.

Eight international organizations issued a statement Thursday urging the Cambodian government to drop the law, saying “excessive” compulsory registration for NGOs would stunt development in the country.

“The draft law requires [the NGOs] to register. Why don’t they want to register? Small NGOs are not required to register,” Nuth San An said.

“As for the [funding] reports, the NGOs already file reports to their funding donors. So what is wrong with submitting the report to the relevant government ministries?”

“What are they afraid of that the ministries will find in their reports? Or are [the NGOs] afraid of what their own employees will find in the reports?”

The Ministry of Interior has said the law will not be discussed with groups again before it is passed on to the Council of Ministers for approval and debate at the National Assembly.

Joint statement

Groups such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Forum Asia, Global Witness, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, Frontline Defenders, and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) issued a joint statement Thursday calling the draft law a “significant threat” to NGOs in Cambodia.

Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement that the law “could too easily be used to refuse registration or close down organizations that serve the public interest.”

Yap Swee-Seng, executive director of Forum-Asia said the government had done little in response to concerns from civil society, when the draft was first circulated last December, that the law would prove vulnerable to abuse by officials seeking to silence NGO criticism.

"Far from addressing these fears, the revisions introduced by the government make a bad situation worse," he said.

"New provisions that facilitate denial or delays of registration to those deemed critical of the government will allow an increasingly oppressive government to further restrict civil society activities."

On Wednesday, 62 international NGOs working in Cambodia also voiced their opposition to the law, saying it would leave them vulnerable to government interference and lessen their ability to impact society.

Dr. Sin Sommoni, director of the Cambodia-based health NGO Medicam, said the government had so far only accepted very few proposals from civil society organizations.

“In my personal opinion, we have to continue to insist the government include our other recommendations into the draft law as well,” he said.

Wide debate

The draft law, which proponents say will better regulate the country’s estimated 3,000 organizations operating outside of government control, has also faced criticism from the U.N. and from Washington.

Surya Subedi, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia visited the country in February and met the heads of several civil society organizations to discuss their concerns about operating in the country.

During his visit, Subedi encouraged the Cambodian government to consult with NGOs on the drafting of the law and bring it into conformity to international norms.

In January a U.S. State Department spokesman said the United States had “serious concerns about the law as drafted and strongly opposes the enactment of any law that would constrain the legitimate activities of NGOs.”

The State Department also urged Phnom Penh to consult with NGOs on the substance of the draft law and to “reconsider whether such a measure is even necessary.”

Cambodia’s government has long had an antagonistic relationship with human rights groups and NGOs operating in the country.

Last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen said he wanted the U.N. human rights office in Cambodia closed and its representative, Christophe Peschoux, sacked.

Reported by Keo Nimol for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Sum Sok Ry. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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