The highly-anticipated fourth draft of the controversial Draft Law on NGOs and Associations circulated at a meeting of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia yesterday “is still unacceptable to civil society”, attendees said.
Fundamental problems remain with the fourth generation of the NGO Law, “which continues to be a restrictive piece of legislation”, civil society organisations said in a media release yesterday.
The unofficial English translation of the latest version of the law, obtained by the Post yesterday, indicated that one of the key concerns of NGOs – appeal rights – has still not been addressed by the government.
Only domestic associations and organisations have the right to appeal “to the court”, and only in the instance registration is not approved by the Ministry of Interior.
The fourth generation law creates two separate registration procedures, one for domestic associations and NGOs and one for foreign associations and NGOs.
Domestic associations and NGOs may be “freely established” without obtaining permission or giving notice, but do not have “legal capacity” unless they register.
Effectively this means that despite government promises that mandatory registration would be dropped in the fourth generation, domestic associations and organisations would be unable to hire staff, have bank accounts, rent or buy office space or enter into other contracts unless they register.
“This really means that it is mandatory to register with the Ministry of Interior, otherwise we will have no legal entity,” an NGO representative, who attended yesterday’s meeting, said.
The CCC meeting today also highlighted a worrying new provision directed toward international NGOs and associations.
The fourth draft states in new Article 17 that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs may terminate its Memorandum of Understanding with a foreign association or NGO “in the event that a foreign association or non-governmental organisation conducts activities which jeopardise peace, stability and public order or harm the national security, national unity, culture, customs and traditions of the Cambodian national society”.
No appeal rights are associated with this new provision.
The fourth-generation law has been reduced to 34 articles, compared with 58 articles in the third draft.
Potentially positive changes in the latest version include a loosening of regulations governing “annual reports” for domestic associations and organisations, which will be required only every five years.
Another change includes the removal of the requirement for all associations and domestic NGOs to have 11 Cambodian founding members. This has been revised to apply only to domestic associations and NGOs, and the requirement is scaled down to three Cambodian founding members.
Mey Narath, director of political affairs at the Ministry of Interior, said there would be a half-day workshop on the fourth draft on Monday, to which “more than a 100” local and international NGOs had been invited.
“We will review what issues are still there and what is acceptable for all,” he said.
Those who viewed the latest draft yesterday were sceptical, however, as to what could be achieved in a half-day workshop with hundreds of people in attendance.
“We are concerned it will just be a meeting, not with a full discussion to find the advantages and disadvantages of the law,” Chan Sovet, a senior monitor for Adhoc, said.