More than 30 non-government groups have recently applied to register with the state or asked for changes to their current registration records, according to a statement from the Interior Ministry that hailed the requests as broad endorsement of Cambodia’s highly controversial new NGO law.
The National Assembly and Senate passed the law in July despite boycotts by the opposition and widespread criticism that the ruling CPP would use it to muzzle its critics. The law requires most NGOs and associations to register with the government and allows ministries to shut down NGOs that fail to remain politically neutral or jeopardize Cambodian traditions.
In a statement posted to its website Wednesday, the Interior Ministry said that 20 NGOs or associations had applied to register since the law took effect, while three had asked to open provincial branches, and eight had filed changes to their leadership, statutes, logo or central office address.
“This proves support and respect for the principle of the rule of law… on laws approved by the National Assembly,” said the statement, titled “Law on Associations and Non-Government Organizations is fully supported by various non-government organizations in Cambodia.”
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, said the 31 groups mentioned by the ministry did not reflect the support of the thousands of NGOs and associations across the country.
“Before the National Assembly approved it, this law was very controversial both nationally and internationally…. If there had been perfect consultation and all the input was included, it would not have been controversial,” he said. “So the support of newly registered NGOs and associations does not reflect the position of the more than 4,000 NGOs and associations.”
The government says there are more than 3,000 NGOs and associations across the country, but NGOs say that only about a third of them are active and that most were registered before the law took effect.
In the lead-up to the law’s passage, government officials insisted that Cambodia needed the new rules to stem money laundering and terrorist financing. Critics dismissed the argument as an excuse to give the CPP new powers to clamp down on rights groups.
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