The Cambodian parliament’s Permanent Committee will meet Monday to discuss a draft law on nongovernmental organizations before submitting it to other parliamentary commissions for further review before the entire assembly votes on it, a parliamentary official said on Wednesday.
National Assembly (parliament) spokesman Chheang Von told RFA’s Khmer Service that after the meeting early next week, the relevant parliamentary commissions would study whether the draft Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO) complies with national and international standards.
“Expert committees will decide whether we should keep or scrap the draft law,” he said.
But Chheang Von added that Cambodia needs to have the NGO law.
“Cambodia needs to have this law because many countries in the world have the same law,” he said.
After parliament discusses the legislation internally, it will invite NGOs and diplomats to provide recommendations, he said.
Chheang Von’s comments came as about 10 NGO representatives met with National Assembly deputy president Kem Sokha to lobby parliament to drop the draft law.
Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, told RFA that there are many points of contention in the latest version of the NGO draft law.
He has urged the assembly to consider the draft law carefully, he said.
“Cambodian democracy is narrowing and going backward,” he said. “The draft law will affect NGOs’ freedom.”
Earlier this month, rights groups said they wanted parliament to hold a consultation with civil society groups about what they consider the “controversial” draft law, which the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen approved on June 5.
Sent to the National Assembly on June 16, the proposed legislation has not yet been circulated for review, Chea Poch, a lawmaker of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), told RFA on Wednesday.
“So far, only Assembly spokesman and Foreign Affairs Commission chairperson Chheang Von has seen it,” Chea Poch said.
NGOs fear possible restrictions
Local NGOs pointed out that the government had approved the latest version of the draft law without consulting them and fear the legislation would restrict their activities in Cambodia.
The issues in question are restrictions on NGOs’ community activities, uncertainty about whether unregistered NGOs may continue operating, and the disbandment of NGOs.
Rights groups fear that the draft law incorporates few amendments to an earlier draft released in 2011, which was later withdrawn following heavy local and international criticism.
The draft law would confer “broad and intrusive powers to the government that could severely undermine the capacity of civil society organizations to operate in Cambodia,” the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) said in a statement issued Wednesday.
Among other provisions, LANGO would impose “onerous registration requirements, reporting obligations and broad and vague grounds for denial of registration and [for] deregistration,” the statement said.
About 5,000 NGOs operate in the impoverished nation, actively assisting with its development in the areas of human rights, democracy, health care, social work and agriculture.
Many domestic and international NGOs have said they find it odd that the Cambodian government has claimed it is creating the law to protect their interests, but so far has excluded them from participating in drafting the law.
Reported by So Chivi for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin and Richard Finney.