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NGO law talks not over: US

Dan Baer, US deputy assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour, speaks in Phnom Penh yesterday.

The government has committed to further consultation with civil society on its controversial draft NGO law, a visiting United States State Department official said yesterday, though Cambodian government officials did not provide a clear road map of their plans.

Daniel Baer, deputy assistant secretary in the bureau of democracy, human rights and labour at the US State Department, wrapped up a multi-day visit to Cambodia yesterday, which included meetings with government officials, trade union leaders and civil society.

“One of my chief aims in coming was to learn more about the prospective NGO law,” he said.

“I am encouraged by the fact that, both at the Ministry of Interior and at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, officials assured me that there will be continued consultations,” Baer said.

“There’s a consultation process that has started, but there’s room for more consultations with civil society on the pending NGO law.”

Baer said the Cambodian government’s commitment was firm.

“They indicated that they are planning to do further consultations. There was no ambiguity,” he said. “What I heard is that there will be a broad invitation.”

Lun Borithy, executive director of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, said he had still been waiting for word from the government about additional meetings.

“That’s very new to me, but it’s very welcome,” he said yesterday. “I find it hard to analyse. We’ve been trying to get that sort of answer for a long time.”

The government hosted a large consultative meeting on January 10. The heads of four umbrella organisations met with Ministry of Interior officials on January 21, but the government had since ruled out additional meetings that would be broadly inclusive and indicated ambivalence as to whether it would convene any more at all.

Nuth Sa An, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, said yesterday he would invite an unspecified number of NGOs to meet in the future, but declined to offer further details.

Ouch Borith, secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also met with Baer and said the government was discussing the recommendations from civil society organisations.

Ouch Borith said he has a meeting about the issue with several NGOs today, but that the government had not yet decided how or whether to convene additional meetings.

“We have not decided yet on this now because we are still studying all the recommendations,” he said.

Baer’s visit follows an exchange of letters on the issue between Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“I recently wrote the foreign minister of Cambodia about proposed legislation that would impose burdensome reporting requirements on NGOs and prevent many small organizations from operating at all,” Clinton said in remarks in Washington last week.

While Baer expressed hope for continued discussion on the draft legislation, he said the US still sees no necessity for it, citing the civil code and law on anti-terrorism.

“We’ve made clear that we don’t yet understand the necessity of the law and we would say that we think there should be a full assessment and it should be made clear what the case for the law is,” Baer said.




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