UN Expert Urges Senate to Reject NGO Law

U.N. human rights expert Maina Kiai on Thursday urged Cambodia’s Senate not to pass a controversial NGO law that the National Assembly approved this week, warning that the legislation could have “disastrous” effects.

The law would require all non-government groups, save the smallest community organizations, to register with the state and file regular activity and financial reports. Critics fear the CPP will use vague provisions to muzzle its critics.

Despite a boycott by all 55 opposition lawmakers at the National Assembly, the CPP used its majority to pass the bill on Monday, sending it on to the rubber-stamp Senate, which the CPP also controls.

The law “unequivocally threatens the very existence of a free and independent civil society in Cambodia,” Mr. Kiai, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, said in a statement Thursday.

“Should the draft law be adopted, any group advocating for human rights, basic freedoms and good governance can be shut down and criminalized,” he said. “It will ultimately have a disastrous impact on Cambodian citizens’ democratic participation in furthering the development of their country.”

A few dozen local rights groups and community networks issued a joint statement on Tuesday also urging the Senate to reject the bill.

On Thursday, Kong Korm said he and the 10 other Sam Rainsy Party senators had asked the two CPP-led Senate commissions currently reviewing the bill to send it back to the National Assembly.

“We are asking the expert commissions to send the law back to the National Assembly for more consultations with associations, NGOs and opposition lawmakers and to add their opinions,” he said. “Otherwise, we will boycott any [Senate] plenary meeting for voting on the law.”

Senate spokesman Mam Bun Neang said a vote on the law had not yet been scheduled.

CPP lawmakers have said that the law would not impinge on the rights of the NGOs in Cambodia and that the country needs the legislation to combat money laundering and terrorism.

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