Local human rights group Licadho maintained in a briefing paper released this week that a proposed law governing non-governmental organizations in Cambodia is only intended to restrict the activities of civil society.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has said repeatedly that a law on associations and NGOs is a priority for the government in order to promote transparency, but the paper from Licadho charged that it would actually serve to stifle criticism of the government.
“The government’s true motivation in passing an NGO Law [has]… everything to do with political control,” the paper read.
Han Sunrith, deputy director of monitoring and protection for Licadho, said by telephone Tuesday that the passing of other long-awaited laws should hold higher priority for the government than the NGO legislation.
“It is not a good time to have an NGO law in the context of Cambodia,” he said, explaining that anti-corruption legislation, a new criminal code and new laws governing the judicial system must be passed first.
“All of these laws are important for strengthening the court system before the NGO law is passed,” he said.
Given Cambodia’s current legal environment, Licadho fears such a law would limit its activities, he added. “We are quite worried about the NGO law, that it puts us in dangerous conditions.”
Ministry of Interior spokesman Lieutenant-General Khieu Sopheak denied Tuesday that the law would allow the government to interfere with or curtail the work of civil society organizations.
“There are more than 2,000 NGOs in Cambodia. It is essential to have an NGO law,” he said by telephone.
“Some NGOs, they are acting beyond their rights,” Mr Sopheak said, adding that NGOs should be politically neutral, but instead many are linked with political parties.
“They must be neutral, and not racist,” he continued, “Sometimes they are making some racist comments…. They are looking down on one nation.” He declined to cite specific examples of racist comments or the political activities by NGO representatives. “You can look it up yourself,” he said.
Mr Sopheak said that he did not know when the NGO law would be passed, but added that the Ministry of Interior was soliciting input from NGOs and international organizations to draft the legislation.