UN official questions necessity of NGO law

The head of the UN human rights office in Phnom Penh has questioned the need for proposed legislation regulating NGOs while also expressing hope for an “effective consultation” on the draft law.

A public workshop on the long-awaited draft law could be held before the end of the year, according to a government official. Copies of the draft would be handed out to NGOs one or two weeks beforehand, according to the official, although NGOs have requested at least a month.

“Our legal view, based on human rights standards, is that the current legal framework–civil law, penal law, law on counter-terrorism, anticorruption law–is sufficient to regulate all aspects of non-governmental organizations and associations: from registration, to legal personality, to criminal responsibility, to financial transparency and control,” Christophe Peschoux, country representative for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, wrote in an e-mail on Friday.

“We are thus questioning the legal necessity of an additional law. In terms of priority, our advice is that the adoption [of] remaining fundamental laws relating to the organization of the judiciary would go a long way to strengthen the framework for the administration of justice,” Mr Peschoux wrote. “Of course, it is the prerogative of any elected government to decide its own legislative agenda.”

These views have already been shared with the government, NGOs and donors, Mr Peschoux said.

“We trust that the drafters of the law are committed to an effective consultation,” Mr Peschoux added. “We look forward to foster and contribute to that consultation about the NGO law, and hope that it will be an opportunity to discuss, in a free and open manner, both the legal necessity of the law and its contents.”

Government officials have said a law on NGOs is necessary because the civil society sector lacks accountability and transparency, while NGOs have expressed concerns that such a law could compromise their independence.

Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said yesterday that “some NGOs don’t want this law because they have to be under it.”


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