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Civil society groups and NGOs march along Phnom Penh’s riverfront towards the National Assembly during a demonstration last year
Civil society groups and NGOs march along Phnom Penh’s riverfront towards the National Assembly during a demonstration last year. Critics of the draft law fear it will give the government too much power to control NGO activities. Heng Chivoan

Input on NGO law over: gov’t

The government will not consult civil society groups on the latest iteration of a draft law that will regulate non-governmental organisations and associations, a senior Interior Ministry official said yesterday.

Meas Sarim, deputy director-general of the General Department of Local Administration at the Ministry of Interior (MOI), said that the Council of Ministers had sent the law back to the MOI last year with orders that certain changes recommended by civil society groups be made.

“We have deleted many articles. For instance, the article that said that organisations or associations must re-register when the law goes into effect, now we have made it that [registered] NGOs can write to inform the ministry about their NGO [instead].”

As the government has already consulted a number of times with civil society groups, the latest draft of the law will not be shown to them and no further consultations will be sought, he said.

“We won’t meet them again. We are pushing this law to be approved in this 5th mandate of the government. I cannot say whether that’s in 2014 … but we have to push it ahead.”

Sarim added that the latest draft would not require small grassroots groups to officially register as organisations.

A major concern when the fourth draft of the law was released in 2011 was that its vague definitions of NGOs and associations would allow the government to restrict certain groups, such as land rights protesters, by forcing them to register.

In December 2011, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the draft law would be delayed until further consultation between civil society groups and NGOs reached an agreement.

But Soeung Saroeun, executive director at leading NGO member group the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, said that civil society groups had not been approached since that time.

“What is important now is to have the latest draft … so we can provide further comments on that law [and] have proper consultation with civil society,” he said.

Despite claims made by the government at a UN rights review in January that the law had already been approved by the Council of Ministers, council spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday confirmed that the law was back at the MOI.

“If it had been passed by the Council of Ministers it would be in the National Assembly.… Nothing has happened yet.”

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