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Different takes on NGO law

AHEAD of a half-day meeting today between the Royal Government and NGOs that will introduce the fourth generation of the draft Law on Associations and NGOs, a divergence of opinion on the law’s latest version has emerged between two prominent Cambodian NGOs.

Rights group Licadho has called the fourth draft another failure that is “now more confusing than ever”, while the Cambodian Center for Human Rights welcomed the positive improvements in the latest revision, “especially in terms of clarity”.

Licadho and CCHR are the only civil society organisations to publish analyses of the draft law since its circulation last week.

Licadho maintained a strictly critical analysis of the fourth generation of the law, while CCHR applauded the incorporation of civil society’s recommendations into the newest version as a “credit” to the government.

The fourth generation of the draft law, obtained by the Post last week, evinces a significant change in tone, along with modifications to the highly criticised registration requirements and procedures.

But while shorter in length, the fourth generation law has a wider reach. The provisions of the third draft technically applied only to those associations and NGOs that were registered or had a Memorandum of Understanding with the government, while the fourth generation has a blanket application to all associations and NGOs.

Many civil society organisations have been fighting against the inclusion of any mandatory registration provisions in the law, despite the fact that the creation of a registry of associations and organisations operating in the Kingdom is one of government’s key objectives.

While the more onerous registration requirements have been removed or altered, both Licadho and CCHR agree there is still the potential for the law to be used as a weapon in “silencing” civil society.

“Several key provisions raise more questions than they answer, both in terms of the law’s application and the intent of the government,” Licadho wrote in its analysis of the fourth draft. CCHR referred to the continued “threat posed by the LANGO [Law on Associations and NGOs] to civil society and donor programs” in its analysis.

Since the first draft of a law to govern the registration of associations and NGOs in Cambodia was aired roughly one year ago, repeatedly revised drafts of the legislation have drawn sharp criticism from domestic and international observers.

Key concerns with earlier drafts of the law centred on registration requirements, appeals avenues and the ability for the government to use the law to shut down associations and NGOs. Licadho’s analysis argues that specific problems from earlier drafts remain, pointing to the continued lack of appeals processes.  

“There is no administrative appeals process for organisations whose registration is denied,” Licadho said. “The only appeal is directly to the court, which is known to be influenced by the executive branch.”

CCHR’s analysis took issue with a new provision empowering the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to shut down foreign associations and NGOs for unspecified acts that “jeopardize peace, stability and public order” amongst other things.

“The LANGO could not be much worse for foreign NGOs and associations,” CCHR said in its analysis.

Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak yesterday said it was “not clear” whether the fourth draft of the legislation would be enacted as law.

“I do not know yet how many other meetings there will be with civil society or what the agenda will be for the meeting [today],” he told the Post.

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