More Pressing Issues Than NGO Law: Group

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee has called on the government to focus its energy on improving governance and reforming the legal and judicial sector, rather than creating laws to regulate local associations and organizations.

Government officials are currently drafting a comprehensive law to regulate non-governmental organizations and community groups, which one senior official said would “redress serious irregularities of NGO activities.”

Many in the NGO sector, however, see the law as a form of pressure being applied on groups that have been vocal critics of the government’s poor track record on human rights, land rights and the fight against corruption.

“There are many other laws” of greater priority, CHRAC wrote in a letter dated Wednesday, referring to, among others, the long-awaited criminal code, anti-corruption law, freedom of information law, law on the statute of judges and the Su­preme Council of Magistracy.

“The laws, as mentioned, are very important for legal and judicial reforms and good governance, [and] for ensuring for transparency,” CHRAC wrote.

Despite the government’s poor impression of NGOs, such groups for 15 years have contributed “[M]oral and material support to the Cambodian people who are poor and vulnerable due to the lack of state services access,” CHRAC added.

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said the government is working with the “international community” to produce the NGO law, and that such a law is a necessity.

“We have observed that some NGOs are serving as political tools for political parties,” Interior Min­istry spokesman Lieutenant Gen­eral Khieu Sopheak said Thursday.

“There are 2,000 NGOs, only a few NGOs have complained,” he added.

Thun Saray, president of local human rights group Adhoc, said he feared the law would be used by the government to either shut down organizations, or control their financial budgets.

“NGOs haven’t done anything to disturb the country and the people,” Thun Saray said.

“We have helped the country. Why is the government concerned about the NGOs?” he asked.

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