More than 300 civil society representatives, diplomats and opposition members yesterday attended a consultation to voice concerns over the controversial draft NGO law, a parliamentary vote on which was reportedly delayed until next week.
The national consultation, organised by the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC) and held at the Cambodiana Hotel, coincided with yet another march on parliament by hundreds of opponents of the legislation.
The draft bill – which the government says is needed to regulate the sector and stop rogue operators – was again criticised for placing undue restrictions on NGOs and undermining civil society’s role in the Kingdom.
“The stance of civil society groups is still that the government needs to consult more widely, because many of the new articles in the draft deliberately curb freedom of forming NGOs, associations, freedom of assembly, and leave groups exposed to deregistration and fines,” said CCC executive director Soeung Saroeun.
Saroeun acknowledged some positives in the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (LANGO), but said 70 per cent of the draft was contrary to Cambodia’s constitution as well as national and international laws.
Preap Kol, head of Transparency International Cambodia, said the draft law’s provision on exempting foreign aid delivered via NGOs from tax was positive but ultimately unnecessary, as it was covered in existing legislation.
Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, called for action to halt the proposed law.
“This involvement is not just a formality, even though there is a small amount of time left, we can still show the unacceptable position of this draft,” she said.
Also yesterday, hundreds of activists protested the bill outside parliament.
Holding banners and shouting anti-LANGO slogans, the group was confronted by more than 100 security guards, though no clashes were reported.
The Venerable Proem Houn, who was among the protesters, said the government should focus its energy on solving land disputes and reducing poverty rather than creating oppressive legislation.
“The creation of this law is aimed at restricting the right to freedom of expression and gathering of citizens,” Houn said.
“This shows that democracy in the country is in recession”.
Meanwhile, Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator with human rights group Licadho, yesterday said protesters were told by officials that the National Assembly’s extraordinary session to vote on the law, initially scheduled for Friday, according to reports, had been postponed until Monday.
According to Licadho’s website, the group has seen official documents to this effect.
This morning, the parliamentary Commission on Foreign Affairs will host a public workshop on the NGO law at the National Assembly, while in the afternoon, members of the Foreign Affairs, Legislation and Justice and Interior Affairs commissions will quiz government officials about the legislation.