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NGO pressure mounts

Cambodia's controversial NGO law is being drafted for a third time, the government confirmed yesterday, as the number of organisations slamming the latest public version of the legislation neared 600.

Critics have stated that the legislation would cripple Cambodian civil society if it were adopted, citing provisions that would outlaw unregistered voluntary organisations, force foreign NGOs to collaborate with the government and leave government involvement in NGO activities unchecked.

The outcry intensified last month after the Ministry of Interior released a second draft that failed to address concerns expressed by civil society, and Nouth Sa An, secretary of state at the ministry, said he would advance the draft to the Council of Ministers in the first week of April.

This has yet to happen but 574 NGOs have now added to the pressure by declaring the second draft “unacceptable” in a statement released yesterday by the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia.

The organisations “are very concerned that the law in its second draft gives far-reaching power to the authorities to control the rights of citizens to organise and express themselves”, the statement said.

The United States said last month that the legislation was “emblematic” of efforts around the world to restrict civil society, and told the government during a meeting with international donors that the law could jeopardise financial assistance.

The World Bank also called for further discussion on the law during the meeting.

Mey Narath, deputy director of the political affairs department at the Ministry of Interior, said yesterday that the ministry was preparing a third draft, but did not know whether it would be shared publicly.

He indicated, however, that the government had already taken NGO concerns into account.

“Before, the Ministry of Interior sent the draft law to NGOs and [embassies] for discussion many times, and the ministry has collected recommendations for examination,” he said.

Nouth Sa An said yesterday that he was aware of NGO criticisms of the legislation but had “resolved the problems already”.

Last week, he said that he planned to meet with Deputy Prime Minister Sok An to discuss changes to the proposed law before sending it to the Council of Ministers.

Lun Borithy, executive director of CCC, said yesterday he believed that “the majority of active NGOs are in support” of the joint statement.

The paramount concern, he said, was to see the new version of the law.

“Civil society is keen to see the third draft before it’s heading to the Council of Ministers, something we’ve been promised,” he said. He added that Nouth Sa An said during a meeting earlier this year that if a third draft was produced, it would be shared.

“The ministry said that we would get a glimpse of the third draft, and that hasn’t materialised yet,” Lun Borithy said.

Consultation after the law is passed on to the Council of Ministers is not expected.

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