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Old problems persist in new NGO draft law

The latest version of the government’s draft law on NGOs, which was approved by the Council of Ministers in January, is identical to an earlier version made available to civil society in 2011, with several outstanding concerns still intact, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights said yesterday.

Working from a copy provided by the government late last month, CCHR found that the draft law – despite having addressed many of civil society’s concerns – was likely to be passed as is, still with several troubling articles, including vague language that “could not be much worse for foreign NGOs and associations”.

Under the draft law, the government is not obligated to provide a reason for denying foreign NGOs applications and there is no mechanism to appeal such a decision.

What’s more, “foreign organizations are only entitled to implement ‘aid projects’, which could be used to reject or de-register foreign organizations for supposed breach of purpose if they engage in advocacy”.

Given that the government has said that it will accept no more input on the law, the fact that the draft provided last month is identical to the 2011 version “further indicat[es] that the RGC [Royal Government of Cambodia] will most likely adopt the draft [law] of 2011 without further consultations”.

Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said yesterday that while his group is technically registered as a local NGO, “we do have concerns along with civil society”.

“The secrecy, the lack of transparency and consultation has raised concerns about what the motivation of the law is,” he said.

“Any law that has a good intention, it should be widely consulted [on], especially among the civil society organisations that are the main subject of the law.”

If the government pressed ahead with the unchanged law, he continued, “it would not be a surprise to us”.

Ruling party lawmaker Cheam Yeap said yesterday that the Council of Ministers’ version had not yet made it to the National Assembly – though it might arrive by the end of the week – and that he was unsure whether there would be any efforts to change it.

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