The advent of Cambodia’s much-criticized NGO law was among the top “troubling” developments to take place across the globe last year, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association said in a report released Friday.
“2015: The Year in Assembly and Association Rights,” by U.N. envoy Maina Kiai—who visited Cambodia for two days in late November but said he was not welcomed by the government—focuses on laws, policies and state forces that restricted “civic space” worldwide last year.
Cambodia’s much-criticized Law on Associations and Non-Government Organizations, which came into effect in August despite a parliamentary boycott by the opposition and intense rebukes from rights groups, was singled out by Mr. Kiai as “repressive” legislation “meant to restrict people’s ability to organize.”
“Cambodia…passed troubling laws which threaten to snuff out independent civil society,” he says in the report.
“The law is already restrictive enough; the uncertainty that we’re seeing now around its implementation is not helping. Instead, it’s contributing to what is already a very disempowering environment.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday that the law was created to protect NGOs, adding that a small minority of such groups had been specifically “designed to work against the government.”
“Nothing in the law is intended to restrict NGO freedom,” he said. “The purpose of this law is to protect them.”
Though he said he did not know of Mr. Kiai personally, Mr. Siphan condemned “foreigners”—such as those working for the U.N. and other international NGOs—who criticize Cambodian policies.
“Those people are not international police, but they are aiming to police the Cambodian government,” he said.
The report also highlights the assault on two CNRP lawmakers outside the National Assembly in October.
While it stops short of implicating the ruling CPP in the attack, it frames the event through the voices of other rights groups that said as much.