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Debate urged on NGO law

Debate urged on NGO law

Four civil society umbrella organisations yesterday urged the government to make Monday’s consultation the beginning – rather than the end – of public debate on its controv ersial draft NGO law.

In a statement yesterday, the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, NGO Forum, Medicam and the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee – representing more than 400 local and international NGOs working in Cambodia – called on the government to incorporate their recommendations into the law.

It also requested the establishment of a joint government-civil society working group to make further revisions.

“Our aim is to have a law that is enabling for us rather than a law that would restrict operations and also our ability to serve the people,” said CCC executive director Lun

The groups yesterday delivered a statement and summary report of recommendations yesterday to the ministries of interior and foreign affairs, he said.

The report includes a host of proposals that amount to considerable changes to the law.

The groups called for registration requirements to be simplified and incorporate registration provisions from the 2007 Civil Code.

It also added that associations and small organisations should be excluded from the scope of the law.

It would be very hard for us and the entire community to accept the law as it stands.

Reporting requirements should be scaled according to an organisation’s size, the report added. Suspension and dissolution of NGOs should also proceed in accordance with
an organisation’s charter, the Civil Code and donor requirements.
“We want those recommendations to be reflected into the current draft and a second draft to be shared with us,” Lun Borithy said.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said the government has “no position” on the proposals as yet. The ministries of interior and foreign affairs, which co-authored the draft, will meet to discuss the issue but “don’t have any schedule yet to make a decision on that”, he added.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for comment.

The government’s next step is to advance the law to the Council of Ministers. But civil society organisations are calling for significant changes before that happens.

“It would be very hard for us and the entire community in Cambodia to accept the law as it stands,” Lun Borithy said.

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has also weighed in on the draft law.

Christophe Peschoux, OHCHR’s country representative, said in an email following Monday’s meeting that his office had given the government a report analysing the draft and questioning “whether a new law is legally necessary, given existing laws”.

“Our office welcomes and fully supports a full and meaningful debate and consultation of this law, both in terms of its legal necessity, and its contents. We welcome the consultation that began [Monday] and hope that it will continue throughout the process of development of this law, including when it will be debated by Parliament,” Peschoux said.

“The enactment of a law enabling the further development of civil society in Cambodia is crucial to the continued development of Cambodia and its society, and would place Cambodia as a champion in the region.”