NGOs remained united Tuesday in their staunch opposition to a draft law that would force all non-government groups in the country to register with the state, but were split on whether to take up the ruling CPP on its offer for an 11th-hour consultation ahead of an imminent vote.
More than 200 NGO workers met at the Hotel Cambodiana in Phnom Penh on Tuesday morning to consolidate their objections to the draft. They fear the government will use its vague and broad provisions to muzzle and shutter groups that speak out against the CPP, and want the law dropped, or at least extensively rewritten.
CPP lawmakers have scheduled a meeting at the National Assembly for this morning to hear their questions and concerns ahead of Friday’s planned vote. But NGOs Tuesday said the meeting was just for show, and complained that the Assembly was keeping some of them off the guest list.
“The government is only doing it to make itself look good,” Chak Sopheap, who heads the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said of the consultation.
Ms. Sopheap said she would nonetheless attend. Other groups said they would not, or that they were not even invited and turned away when they tried to register.
Contacted by telephone Tuesday, National Assembly spokesman and CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun said he could not speak with a reporter because he was ill. Last week, he said the draft was “perfect” and that a vote had tentatively been slated for Friday.
Rights group Licadho, however, said it was told by the Assembly’s administrative staff Tuesday that the vote had been pushed back to Monday.
The opposition CNRP says it stands with the NGOs in opposition to the law. It lacks the parliamentary seats to stop or even amend it, but has raised the possibility of boycotting a vote.
The government argues that it needs the law—which would require all groups to file regular financial reports—to make sure terrorist organization do not use NGOs to sneak money into the country.
Nhil Pheap, part of a farmers’ alliance of some 40 communities in Takeo province, said at Tuesday’s meeting he worried the law would be misused.
“In the context of Cambodia, the communities that have land disputes…always protest, and the government always accuses them of causing social disorder, and those NGOs [community associations] will not be registered,” he said.
Zachery Lampell, a legal adviser to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, said the NGO law would also break with international law, in particular Cambodia’s obligations as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Without a clear and concise list of reasons for denying registration, he said, “there is a risk that such decisions will be arbitrary.”
While the NGOs were meeting at the Cambodiana on Tuesday, some 500 other opponents of the law attempted to march to the event from outside the Russian Embassy. But they were blocked by police barricades in front of the National Assembly, where they protested until noon.
(Additional reporting by Mech Dara)