An NGO umbrella group will start holding workshops around the country next month to help independent organizations prepare for the implementation of the new NGO law, which has been viewed as an attempt by the government to clamp down on dissent.
The law, signed into effect by King Norodom Sihamoni last week, requires all non-government groups to register with the state and to file annual reports on their finances and activities. It also gives ministries the power to shut down groups that fail to stay politically neutral or that jeopardize Cambodian traditions.
Officials have assured critics that small grassroots organizations will get a pass. The law does not make a clear exemption.
To help NGOs and community groups navigate the law, the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC) has organized a series of workshops. First, the group will explain the law and the exemption for small groups, according to CCC executive director Soeung Saroeun.
“Second, we will discuss the implementation of the law, because the law is not very clear… and how to mitigate the risks if a problem happens,” he said.
The first of the CCC’s workshops is scheduled to take place in Kratie on September 28, followed by another in Siem Reap province on September 30 and the last in Phnom Penh on October 6.
The CCC’s plans also include training citizens to report back to them on the implementation of the law, creating a hotline for possible abuses of the law.
Just days after the king signed the law, police in Kratie province insisted that a group of 69 families that have banded together over a local land dispute needed to register with the Interior Ministry, even though the community seemed to meet conditions for exemption.
“It contradicts the commitments made by the prime minister and other high-ranking officials,” Mr. Saroeun said.
“The case in Kratie tells us that the government needs to explain again and again to government officials so that they understand the limitations of the law.”
Otherwise, he said, such cases would continue to arise.
Interior Ministry Secretary of State Sak Setha, who helped draft the law, said he was not involved in preparing implementation guidelines. But he said the government would probably hold public workshops on the law, too.
“We have not yet disseminated [the law]. That’s why the local authorities are not yet clear about that,” he said.
Mr. Setha said he had read about the families in Kratie and believed they should probably not have to register. “It’s just a small group,” he said.
Mr. Setha said fellow Interior Ministry Secretary of State Pol Lim would be in charge of the government’s workshops and implementation guidelines. Mr. Lim could not be reached.