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Group criticises draft legislation on NGOs

Group criticises draft legislation on NGOs

THE government’s draft NGO law is “burdensome” and provides the government with the unchecked authority to restrict the activities of NGOs in Cambodia, according to a new report from the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights.

Registration of NGOs under the draft law, made public December 15, is “particularly onerous” for small or provincial organisations, which will be required to re-register, the report stated.

“A balance needs to be struck between satisfying the legitimate and reasonable concerns of the Royal Government of Cambodia and allowing associations and non-governmental organisations the freedom to carry out their positive and beneficial activities,” it said.

Ou Virak, president of CCHR, said he expects 25 percent of an estimated 3,000 NGOs in Cambodia will be forced to end their activities because of the registration process alone.

The requirement of foreign NGOs to “collaborate with relevant ministries or institutions of the [government] when preparing project plans, implementing, monitoring, aggregating and evaluating the result of implemented activities” (Article 36) is “unnecessary and extremely onerous”,  the report said. It will also likely result in “significant” delays to NGO activities.

We’re not clear what exactly the government wants with this law.

The draft law also does not go far enough in limiting government authority to regulate and manage NGO activities, the report added, and called for the inclusion of a right to appeal government decisions to the courts.
The bill also gives “total discretion” to the Ministry of Interior to reject applications for registration without specific criteria, the report said.  

According to Article 48, the Ministry of Economy and Finance or the National Audit Authority “has the right to examine the financial status reports and properties of any [domestic NGO]”. CCHR called upon the government to amend the law so as to “expressly limit” such governmental powers.

The draft law, CCHR said, would most severely impact community-based organisations and small and/or provincial organisations, “suggesting that the [government’s] principal concern in passing the Law is not Phnom Penh-based international and domestic [NGOs], but popular movements and grassroots politics”.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said in 2008 that the law was needed because “NGOs are out of control … they insult the government just to ensure their financial survival”.

“Our position is clear that we believe it’s not needed, this law, not now,” said Hang Chhaya, executive director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy. “We’re not clear what exactly the government wants with this law.”

Hang Chhaya said the law should wait until after the next election and a more “favourable” political environment when it would have a “proper quality” debate in parliament. The government only made the law a priority once it obtained “an absolute majority”, he said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said civil society could weigh in during the January 10 forum, but the law would pass no matter the opposition.

“Even if the cock crows, the sun will still shine,” Khieu Sopheak said, citing a Khmer proverb. “The law has to be passed because we have already planned for it.”

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