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NGO law draft gathers pace

The government confirmed yesterday that its draft NGO law has been submitted to the Council of Ministers, despite concerns it would restrict Cambodian civil society.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said yesterday that the law had been submitted last week.

Nouth Sa An, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, indicated yesterday that the time had passed for NGOs to submit recommendations.

When asked whether he would accept further input from civil society, Nouth Sa An said that, after meeting last Friday with NGOs, “the civil society organisations no longer have to worry about the law”.

He reportedly told Voice of America on Tuesday that NGOs would have to submit recommendations to the Council of Ministers if they sought further changes, but spokesman Phay Siphan said yesterday there were no plans for the Council of Ministers to accept further input. “They should talk with the initiators [of the law] at the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Phay Siphan said.

It was unclear yesterday how civil society groups could get further changes in the law, which would mandate NGOs and associations to register with the government and adhere to numerous reporting requirements.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said yesterday that “from experience, it’s very difficult to change and very difficult to influence” legislation once it has reached the Council of Ministers, but warned that passing a restrictive law could end up hurting the government by turning away investors.

“This law... will hurt Cambodian businesses who need foreign direct investment,” he said, arguing that civil society groups had been the driving force behind efforts to ensure transparency and investor protections.

The United States, the most vocal of donor countries in its opposition to the legislation, said its position “remains the same” on the law’s latest draft.

“We urge the Royal Government of Cambodia to consider the views expressed by donors and civil society, and refrain from passing any new law that restricts, rather than enhances, the important role of civil society in Cambodia,” embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh said yesterday.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VONG SOKHENG

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