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Rights groups target wielders of NGO law

The group of “concerned international human rights organisations” opposing Cambodia’s draft Law on Associations and NGOs have lashed out at the Royal Government again, accusing the government of being too corrupt to properly implement the law.

As Cambodia is “missing the checks and balances found in functioning democracies that limit arbitrary action by the executive branch of government”, the draft NGO law will be used as a weapon to silence and constrict civil society, the overseas-based groups including Human Rights Watch, Global Witness, Freedom House and FIDH said in a statement.

“Such provisions are extremely worrisome given the political and governance context of Cambodia, which is characterized by endemic corruption, arbitrary application of punitive legislation, and an absence of judicial independence,” the groups said.

The groups, which do not conduct any development work in country, were calling on donor countries to assume the responsibility of pressuring the government to change or abandon the draft NGO law.

“At stake now is the last 17 years of development assistance in Cambodia and the extent to which donors will be remembered for failing to prevent the removal of one of the few instruments of accountability in Cambodia, nurtured to a great extent thanks to their investments,” Global Witness director Simon Taylor said in the statement.

Global Witness itself has not conducted any direct in-country development assistance since being removed as the independent forestry monitor in Cambodia by the Cambodian government in 2003 after frequent combative interactions between the two.

The international groups took particular issue with a termination provision in the new fourth generation of the draft law.

“This latest version of the law can be arbitrarily misused to root out international NGOs who employ rights-based

development approaches and offer constructive but critical opinions of the government’s policies and practices,” one of the groups said.

The termination provision in the latest draft of the law does not apply to domestic NGOs.

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