Groups Pile On More Criticism Of Latest Draft of NGO Law

More NGOs heaped criticism on the controversial draft law that aims to regulate Cambodia’s civil society sector, and called on donors to pressure the government to scrap the law altogether.

In a joint statement released Thursday evening, 12 international NGOs, including the Freedom House and Human Rights Watch, said the most recent draft of the law, which was released last week, contains language that would enable the government to arbitrarily clamp down on its critics.

“The 4th draft of the [Law] contains vague and unspecified terms that will enable the government to target critics by ordering their closure or denying them registration,” the statement said.

“Civil society delivers essential services and acts as a constructive watch­­dog over government and private sector activities,” Brad Adams, the Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement. “This law is hardly the sort of ‘reform’ that will benefit Cambodian citizens. Donors should say no to this farce.”

Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, director of the Southeast Asia program at Free­dom House, said the law could be seen as a definitive moment in the freedom of NGOs in the country.

“Many officials in the Cambodian government have never accepted that civil society should operate independently or criticize their decisions,” she said.

At a workshop between government officials and NGO workers on Monday, the government maintained its position toward some of the law’s most controversial sections—namely the filing of annual activity reports and the registration of NGOs.

NGOs say that supplying this information could lead the government to refuse the registration of groups whom they deem overly critical.

“The fourth draft of [the law] fails to establish clear provisions to justify denial of registration to associations or NGOs,” the statement said.

Interior Ministry Secretary of State Nuth Sa An, who has lead the drafting of the law, said he had not seen Thursday’s statement.

“I did not see that report. However, we are still waiting to see the reaction from NGOs. Now, we’re collecting their recommendations, and then we will decide later,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Cheng Sokhorng)


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