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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Concern over NGO law third draft

Concern over NGO law third draft

Concern over NGO law third draft

The most widely-criticised provision of the government’s controversial NGO law – mandatory registration – remains in the legislation’s third draft, which has reportedly been sent to the Council of Ministers.

Rights group Licadho blasted the latest draft in a report released yesterday, saying the law “remains a fundamentally flawed piece of legislation whose only apparent purpose is to control civil society”.

Licadho said that the mandatory registration provisions – which would require NGOs to register with the government in order to operate – violate Cambodia’s constitutional guarantee of the right to form associations.

The latest draft does include a right to appeal to the courts if registration for domestic NGOs and associations is rejected, though the law does not require the government to provide reasons for a denial.

Licadho welcomed the inclusion of a right to appeal yesterday, but expressed concern that the law does not include a time period for appeals as NGOs would not be able to operate while a decision was pending.

One exception to mandatory registration in the new draft is for foreign NGOs operating in Cambodia for less than a year, which would not have to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – as mandated for other foreign NGOs – though they would need to notify the ministry of their “aid projects”.

Nevertheless, the draft law states that foreign NGOs “shall collaborate” with the government “when developing projects, monitoring, and evaluating the implemented activities or results”.

Foreign NGOs would not be able to appeal if they fail to obtain an MOU, though the ministry must specify reasons for a rejection. The law’s third draft, obtained yesterday by The Post, contains few significant changes and appears set to invite further opposition from civil society.

More than 600 NGOs and associations operating in Cambodia have denounced past versions of the law as “unacceptable” in large part because of mandatory registration.

Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, defended the law yesterday and said the government was moving it forward.

“If we do not allow the NGOs to register, why should we have that law? It is nonsense,” he said. “It’s up to them if they don’t want to register with the ministry. Then the law will not protect them … and they cannot operate in Cambodia.”

The law has reportedly moved to the Council of Ministers, according to some NGOs, but Khieu Sopheak said yesterday he did know when it would be advanced. “I can assure you that we are moving forward,” he said.

Nady Tann, secretary general of the government, who facilitates draft laws for their debate at the Council of Ministers, said yesterday that he had “not yet received the draft NGO law from the Ministry of Interior”.