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King signs law on NGOs

Activists protest the Law on Associations and Non Governmental Organisations last month in Phnom Penh.
Activists protest the Law on Associations and Non Governmental Organisations last month in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

King signs law on NGOs

The much-disputed Law on Associations and Non-governmental Organisations (LANGO) has passed its final, and almost entirely ceremonial hurdle, as King Norodom Sihamoni yesterday signed a Royal Proclamation passing the legislation into law.

The signing came a day after the law was approved by the Constitutional Council, which rejected a challenge by the opposition that the legislation breached the Kingdom’s charter.

According to government spokesman Phay Siphan, the law will now be forwarded to the Council of Ministers and the country’s ministries in order to be put into effect.

“After the King signed off on the law, it will take effect in 10 days in Phnom Penh and in 20 days in the provinces,” he said yesterday.

Critics say the law’s vague language, including a clause demanding political “neutrality”, will give the government the ability to shut down and prosecute organisations that criticise the government, and it has been the focus of fervent protests across the country.

Last month, opposition lawmakers boycotted the votes in both the National Assembly and Senate, while more than 50 NGOs signed a joint open letter to the King asking him to prevent the legislation’s passing.

The United Nations and exiting US Ambassador William Todd have also expressed deep concerns about the legislation, earning heavy criticism from the government in the process.

In a strongly worded statement yesterday, Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division deputy director Phil Robertson blasted the law’s passing, warning that it gives Prime Minister Hun Sen “an axe in hand” to go after organisations defending the rights of the Cambodian people.

“This law is one of the last building blocks Hun Sen needed to complete his system of authoritarian rule,” he said.

Robertson lambasted the international donor community for standing idly by and allowing the bill to pass.

“There is no upside to this, there is no doubt that this is a profoundly sad day for rights and democracy in Cambodia,” he said.

Meanwhile, senior technical supervisor at rights group Licadho Am Sam Ath vowed that civil society groups will closely monitor any potential excesses the legislation brings and document them to push for future amendments to the law.

“If it is put into effect, we will find the problems that the law causes to people’s freedom,” he said.

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