The government has remained steadfast in the face of domestic and international criticism as the controversial draft NGO law, already passed by the National Assembly and Senate, moved this week to the Constitutional Council, the final step before it is signed into law by King Norodom Sihamoni.
Responding to criticism from the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights over the law, the Council of Ministers has gone on the attack, accusing Ravina Shamsadani, spokeswoman for the U.N.’s human rights office, of abusing Cambodian law and interfering with its legislative process.
In a statement released last week, Ms. Shamsadani called on the Constitutional Council to “reject the bill, which carries provisions that breach the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Cambodia has ratified and which is recognized in the country’s constitution.”
The Council of Ministers hit back with its own statement Wednesday.
“The reaction expressed by Ravina Shamsadani through a request to the Constitutional Council to reject a draft association and NGO law, your action has aggressively abused the principle of the rule of law, and clearly showed you do not understand Cambodia’s Constitution,” the statement said.
“In particular, [it] demonstrates deep interference and abuse of internal procedure of the legislature because every law approved in the Kingdom of Cambodia is made by the National Assembly, the Senate and promulgated by the King.”
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay visited the Constitutional Council yesterday in a last-ditch effort to see the bill scrapped, as local human rights NGOs Adhoc and Licadho released a joint statement arguing that the bill is unconstitutional.
“We note that the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations critically restricts the rights to association and other key rights of citizens,” said a letter from 13 CNRP lawmakers to Constitutional Council President Ek Sam Ol, submitted by Mr. Chhay.
Adhoc and Licadho cited six articles in the Constitution that they think would be contravened by the draft NGO law, including articles protecting the rights to association, expression and political participation, along with provisions that protect the independence of the judiciary and restrict the powers of the executive.
“The law has the potential to exacerbate abuses of power, allowing the government to use its provisions to intimidate and punish human rights activists and defenders standing up for democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Cambodia,” Thun Saray, president of Adhoc, said in the statement.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan dismissed the complaints and predicted that the Constitutional Council would approve the law.
“What they raise is their own freedom but does not reflect the meaning of each article and provision— they are just making it up,” Mr. Siphan said of Adhoc and Licadho.
“I was a senator, and feel that [the NGO law] is going to be passed, but I don’t want to manipulate what’s going on with another institution,” he said.