Ruling-party Senators in Cambodia’s parliament on Friday predictably approved a controversial law that lets the government regulate the roughly 5,000 nongovernmental organizations that operate in the developing country.
A majority of Senators — 44 from the Cambodian people’s party (CPP) — passed the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO), while 11 from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party boycotted the session in protest against the bill that places restrictions on NGOs and associations.
Senate President Say Chhum permitted eight CPP Senators to give 10-minute speeches in support of the legislation, during which they said would protect the interests of NGOs as well as the rights, freedom, dignity, security, safety and social order in Cambodia.
The Senate will send the law to the Constitutional Council next week for a legal review before it is submitted to King Norodom Sihamoni for final approval, despite continued opposition to it by civil society groups, said Mam Bun Neage, spokesman of the upper house of parliament.
About 500 civil society, human rights and land activists staged a peaceful protest outside the Senate building in the capital Phnom Penh to urge Senators to reject the legislation and return it to the lower house.
They also submitted a petition to the nearby embassy of Japan, a major donor of aid to Cambodia, arguing that the law would prevent people from being able to seek justice and take away NGOs’ freedoms of expression and assembly.
“We think the government will enforce the law,” said one protestor who declined to be named. “The law will be completely adopted as the government wanted. We think this law will strongly affect the next elections. We will wait to see whether the number of CPP seats in parliament will increase or decrease.”
Cambodia’s next parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held by February 2018.
The civil groups vowed not to vote for any parties that supported LANGO.
Letter to the king
The day before the Senate passed the law, Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s general secretary, sent a letter to the king, calling on him to reject LANGO, which was passed by the National Assembly on July 13.
He said that the law would violate Cambodia’s constitution and an international covenant on civil and political rights.
The law requires the 5,000 domestic and international NGOs that work in Cambodia to register with the government and report their activities and finances or risk fines, criminal prosecution and shut downs.
It also lets authorities de-register NGOs if they are not “politically neutral” and deny registrations on vague grounds that the groups have endangered the country’s security and stability or jeopardized national security or Cambodian culture.
The government has said the law is necessary to ferret out illegitimate NGOs and ensure they do not receive financing from terrorists.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.