NGOs Petition To See Draft of Law To Govern Civil Society

Organizations question gov’t motivations in creating law

In a statement signed by 216 local and international groups, distributed Tuesday, Cambodia’s NGO community has asked for a glimp­se at a draft of a new law that will soon govern associations and non-governmental organizations in Cambodia.

The so-called NGO law was marked as a priority by Prime Min­ister Hun Sen in a Sept­ember 2008 speech, but members of civil society groups said yesterday that they haven’t seen a draft of the proposed legislation in the year since. That prompted the calling for more consultation, with concerned organizations is­suing their statement during Tues­day’s donor meeting bet­ween the government and development partners.

“Do you have a draft? I don’t have one,” Dr Sin Somony, director of the medical NGO umbrella group Medicam, said by telephone yesterday. “That’s why I’m wondering when a draft will be available,” he said.

He added that his public health organization, along with the Co-operation Committee for Cam­bo­dia and the NGO Forum on Cam­­bodia, organized a meeting last week with members of civil society groups to discuss the proposed law. They sent invitations to the Interior and Foreign Affairs Ministries, the two government bodies involved in drafting the law, but no government representatives attended the meeting.

NGO Forum Director Chhith Sam Ath said yesterday that he had not seen a draft of the law or spoken with government representatives in the past year, a sentiment echoed by Lun Borithy, CCC’s exe­cutive director.

“We cannot give any input on what is in the law until we know what is in it,” Mr Borithy said yesterday.

The statement from the 216 NGOs, which was not addressed at Tuesday’s donor meeting, also questioned the government’s mot­ivation in creating the law.

“We believe that the current registration processes are adequate to ensure regulation and more importantly are seen as supportive of an ‘enabling’ environment for civil society to exercise its right to engage in participatory democracy,” it read.

“The legitimacy of civil society to create space for the ‘voice’ of affected communities is being called into question by the government.”

Members of the government have said that the law will promote transparency in the NGO community and weed out groups that support terrorism. The last draft made available to members of civil society was written in 2005.

Care International’s Country Dir­ector Sharon Wilkinson said yesterday that she does not necessarily object to the idea of a law governing associations.

“Laws are excellent things to gov­ern if the laws are unambiguous and cannot be used to hamper civil society,” Ms Wilkinson said. “I cannot comment on whether this law will do this or not, because I have not seen it.”

She pointed out that, as things stand now, local organizations must register with the Interior Ministry, while international NGOs enlist at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and that the CCC administers an NGO good practices registry, which in­vites associations to voluntarily adhere to a code of ethics.

“Nobody is working outside the law,” Ms Wilkinson said.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokes­­­man Koy Kuong said yesterday that the draft is currently being discussed by members of his ministry and the Interior Ministry.

“Right now, it’s in process. A technical team is working on it,” he said, adding that he did not have information about the content of the draft.

When asked if NGO groups will have an opportunity to comment on the law, Mr Kuong said, “I’m not sure yet.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sop­heak could not be reached for comment yesterday. In the past, he has said that an NGO law will encourage organizations that are politically neutral, and discourage “racist” groups.

“Some NGOs, they are acting beyond their rights,” he said in a June interview.




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