Clarification Sought on Government’s Fraught NGO Law

A request has been sent to the government’s Human Rights Committee and the interior and foreign affairs ministries seeking clarification on the status and whereabouts of a draft law that will govern associations and non-governmental organizations, asking to see the latest version of the law before it is sent to the National Assembly for ratification.

Explaining the request, Soeung Saroeun, executive director of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC), referred to a speech given in Geneva last month by Mak Sambath, deputy chairman of the rights committee, during which he told the U.N. meeting that the legislation had been “approved unanimously” by the Council of Ministers.

“We have tried to contact different sources including calling to the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and others, but the information is still not clear,” Mr. Saroeun said, referring to Mr. Sambath’s statement in Geneva.

“Some of them said that yes, it is at the Council of Ministers, but the majority said that they were not aware or didn’t know where [the draft law] is now,” he said.

In a letter sent to Mr. Sambath, Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, the CCC referred to a December 24, 2011 speech by Prime Minister Hun Sen, in which he promised to make promulgation of the draft law an inclusive one, with the input of NGOs.

“We would like to ask for a meeting…and would like your excellencies to coordinate and please give us the current draft…to study ahead [of its being ratified] and to discuss, comment, and give advice for the Cambodian government,” states the letter, which was co-signed by two other umbrella groups: NGO Forum and Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee said.

Asked to clarify his comments in Geneva regarding the NGO law, Mr. Sambath declined to comment and referred questions to Meas Sarim, deputy director general of the local administration department at the Ministry of Interior.

“A date of a possible meeting with NGOs, or sending [the draft law] to the National Assembly has yet to be set,” Mr. Sarim said.

“We’re waiting for the order on what to do next,” he said, adding that the law will likely come into force within the first half of this year.

Interior Ministry secretary of state Pol Lim said the Council of Ministers had signed off on the NGO draft law last year “before the election” in July.

“We are still open to comments,” he claimed, declining to say when the law will be made available for that comment.

The draft law, which has 11 chapters and 58 articles, will place new conditions on the establishment and registration of NGOs and also require them to file standardized financial and activity reports on an annual basis.

NGOs, which have a long history of involvement in the development of social, health, education and infrastructure sectors in Cambodia, fear the law will be used to target groups that the government perceives to be critical of the ruling CPP.

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