Cambodia’s Opposition Party to Boycott Conference on NGO Draft Law


2015.07.07
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cambodia-ngos-press-conference-july7-2015.jpg NGO representatives call on Cambodia's parliament to reject the NGO draft law during a press conference in Phnom Penh, July 7, 2015.
RFA

Cambodia’s opposition party will boycott a national conference held by parliament to discuss a controversial draft law that would regulate nongovernmental organizations operating in the developing country, because of loopholes in the proposed legislation that would hinder the groups, an opposition lawmaker said Tuesday.

The Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) will not attend the conference on Wednesday because it wants the National Assembly to return the draft Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO) to the Council of Ministers to amend some articles that would affect NGOs’ rights and operations, CNRP lawmaker Ho Vann told RFA’s Khmer Service.

He said the CNRP’s permanent committee members in parliament voted to dismiss the draft law in late June, but because the majority of members are from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), the bill moved forward.

“The reason we are boycotting the meeting is because we have observed that the law has many loopholes,” he said. “There have been many reactions from NGOs and the public. The draft law will interfere with NGOs’ work.”  

The CNRP’s decision came as the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of 21 NGOs, held a press conference in the capital Phnom Penh to denounce the draft law – echoing widespread international criticism.

During the conference, Soeung Saroeun, executive director of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, said the draft law was written in such a way that contradicts international norms.

“I have observed that there are many articles that are difficult to understand and accept,” he said. “It is an awful law. It will affect the rights of those who want to develop the country.”

Representatives at the conference said NGOs would participate in government’s discussion session on Wednesday morning, but complained that parliament was not giving them enough time to voice their concerns.

Also on Tuesday, activists continued to stage peaceful protests in front of the National Assembly building to call on lawmakers to reject the legislation.

About 200 people from NGOs had joined rights activists on June 23 to protest the decision by parliament’s Permanent Committee to move forward with the legislation.

Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator with the national rights group Licadho, said the draft law was written only to serve the interests of the CPP.

“The law won’t serve society and the people,” he said. “It won’t help or encourage NGOs. On the contrary, the law will shut off us and our criticism.”

The government approved the draft law on June 5 and sent it to parliament 11 days later for review to ensure the legislation complied with the constitution.

Until now, the government has not included NGOs in discussions about the most recent version of the draft law.

The NGOs are concerned about the draft law’s restrictions on their community activities, uncertainty as to whether unregistered organizations can continue operating, and language regarding the disbandment of groups.

About 5,000 NGOs operate in Cambodia, actively assisting with its development in the areas of human rights, democracy, health care, social work and agriculture.

Reported by Mengchou Cheng and Samean Yun for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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