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How many is too many?

How far do proposed restrictions on freedom of assembly really reach? Cheng Lita finds out.

Associations and NGOs are growing rapidly in Cambodia. There are about 3,000 NGOs and associations registered with Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior. Yet some of the 3,000 do not run any activities.

The Ministry of Interior is in the progress of drafting a new law covering associations and NGOs. A lot of the NGOs and associations have been complaining about this proposed new law. Rong Chhun, the president of Independent Teachers Association, complained that the draft is extremely strict with NGOs and associations.

“We have to submit our financial report to the Ministry of Interior, our annual activity plan, so we can no longer keep secret what our institution does.”

The draft associations and NGOs law from the Ministry of Interior is aimed at setting the conditions for creating, registering and detailing the activities of associations, local NGOs and international NGOs in Cambodia. According to the draft released in December last year, the new law will cover associations and local NGOs registered with the Ministry of Interior and international NGOs which have a MoU agreement with the Royal Government of Cambodia.

The draft did not clarify the activities of the student association. However Khieu Sopheak, the spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, confirmed that “student associations which are only based working at schools might not be covered by this law when the law is adopted. This law controls associations and NGOs and their activities in society”.

Rong Chhun, the president of the Independent Teachers Association, also said the new law does not control anything related to studies. “This draft law is not related to study purposes. Students can lead student associations and create associations also.”

The Student Association of the Royal University of Law and Economics said the law would not affect student associations when it is adopted. “We have no worries because we only work in our school. And the law is about the law,” said Tith Kakrolna, president of the Student Association of the Royal University of Law and Economics.

Established in Cambodia for a year now, the Association Internationale des Étudiants en Sciences Économiques et Commerciales Cambodia, an international youth organization, received approved from the Ministry of Interior in January this year.

“I have not read the law, I have no comment on this law,” said Lauri Lahi, the president of AIESEC Cambodia.

“Registration with the Ministry of Interior for international student associations is one matter, the process of registration as an association or NGO with the Ministry of Interior will be even harder after the drafted law is adopted,” said Rong Chhun. He added that the government should reconsider the law.

There have been many complaints about this proposed law from NGOs and associations. The government wants more control over associations and NGOs. Khiev Sopheak said: “The law has yet to be adopted, and if people complain about the law, it is likely they do not want to have this law.”

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