Gov’t Will Drop Mandatory Registration From NGO Law

Non-governmental groups will no longer have to register with the gov­ernment under a new draft law that aims to regulate the country’s NGOs and associations but will still have to hand in annual reports, an Interior Ministry official said yesterday.

Announced at a workshop in Phnom Penh for non-governmental groups, the news appears to hand a major victory to NGOs, who have vehemently opposed the mandatory registry provision as a violation of their constitutional rights to the freedom of assembly.

Even so, some NGOs welcomed yesterday’s news cautiously.

“Now, there is no obligation for the registration of NGOs. For those NGOs that decide to register, they will receive a legal status,” said Mey Narath, deputy director of the In­terior Ministry department of political affairs.

Some donors will only fund groups with legal status.

Mr Narath said the government de­cided to make the changes based on the feedback of “NGOs, embassies and development partners,” and that the government would hold more meetings with the NGOs, but did not specify when.

Since seeing a first draft of the pending law more than a year ago, NGOs have raised fears that the government would use its vague and overly broad provisions to arbitrarily reject applications or shut down ex­isting groups critical of the state.

“I congratulate the announcement about the changes made to the NGO law. This issue of man­datory registration is very important, and if it is required, that would be unacceptable,” said Am Sam Ath, monitoring technical supervisor of human rights group Licadho. “However, I have not seen the document yet…. We would like to see the fourth draft of the law as soon as possible to see if the government made the changes they said.”

Thun Saray, president of human rights group Adhoc, also welcomed the news, but said that he wanted to see a new draft before commenting.

“We have to look at the whole picture, not just one aspect of the draft law,” he said. “If they want to have the law, we will have to continue to watch and react if there are any provisions against our freedoms,” he added.

Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Edu­cation Center, noted that other provisions in the law that have also troubled the NGOs had yet to be addressed.

“Getting rid of [mandatory registration] is a big thing…but the other important thing is the government’s ability to suspend NGOs,” he said. “We need a clear written reason of suspensions by the government in the law.”

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