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Doubts linger on NGO law

Doubts linger on NGO law

Representatives from NGOs again requested that officials at the ministries of interior and foreign affairs accept changes to a second draft of the government’s contentious draft NGO law during a closed-door meeting yesterday, but found limited success.

Officials said it would be “the last consultation” with them on the law, following a large public meeting in January and several smaller private meetings since, said Chith Sam Ath, executive director of NGO Forum.

Lun Borithy, executive director of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, said relations between the government and NGOs were “very tense”.

“We’re not hopeful,” he said.

“It was a very tense meeting, and it did not really live up to our expectations as being a truthful and meaningful dialogue.”  

Lun Borithy said several “sticking points” were raised. “But there was no real concrete promise that they will be taken fully on board.”

NGOs have raised numerous concerns with the law, arguing that it would violate freedom of association and expose the vast sector to arbitrary governmental authority.

Seng Soheng, a representative for Community Peace-building Network, said the second draft was unacceptable and included few changes from the first.

“We cannot accept this law, because they put much pressure on local and international NGOs operating in Cambodia,” said Seng Soheng.

NGOs have said mandatory registration would violate the freedom to associate and impose requirements too burdensome for small organisations. That provision has been retained, and officials rejected appeals to remove it, participants said.

Chith Sam Ath said it was “difficult to say” whether the law was acceptable.

The legislation is expected to be submitted to the Council of Ministers soon, perhaps as early as the end of the week.

Nouth Sa An, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, and Ouch Borith, secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said NGOs could still work with the law but would face limitations.

“Even if this does not change, we can work under this law,” he said. “But we [will] not have much freedom.”

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