Opposition to Draft NGO Law Continues to Grow Abroad

Opposition to the latest draft of a proposed law that aims to regulate the hundreds of NGOs in the country continues to mount ahead of a pending vote, with a group of 10 international rights groups urging the government to scrap what they call a “severely flawed document.”

NGOs have been complaining for years that vague provisions of the draft would give the government undue powers to shut down groups that criticize the ruling CPP. They say a new draft of the law, which reached the National Assembly earlier this month, is even worse.

“The draft [law] is a severely flawed document that should be withdrawn by the National Assembly immediately,” the rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, said in a letter they plan to deliver to Assembly President Heng Samrin today.

If the law is passed, the groups said, “the government will be violating the right to freedom of association…and the right to participate actively in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the nation, a right guaranteed in Article 35 of the country’s constitution.”

The draft would require all NGOs and associations to register with the government in order to keep operating, to file regular activity and financial reports, and to remain politically neutral. It also gives the government the power to shut down, or deny registration to, groups it believes have jeopardized Cambodia’s security or traditions.

NGOs say the provisions are overly restrictive and too vague, giving the government a new tool to shut down groups on politically motivated grounds. The government argues that the law would not overburden NGOs, and would help prevent terrorist groups from sneaking money into the country.

The National Assembly says it will hold at least one public forum with NGOs to discuss the new draft before a vote. But critics, including the opposition CNRP, say this is not enough.

“This draft law is a blatant attempt by the authorities to strangle and control Cambodia’s vibrant civil society,” Rupert Abbott, Amnesty’s regional research director, said in a statement accompanying the letter to Mr. Samrin.

“This law is less about governance than it is about control and censorship,” he said.

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