The government yesterday confirmed four changes to the controversial NGO law in response to widespread criticism; opponents, however, say the edits are insignificant and the legislation remains a “severe violation” of Cambodia’s constitution.
As protests over the law continued yesterday in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park, ministers from the Justice, Finance, Interior and Foreign Ministries as well as the Council of Ministers met to revise the draft, which will tomorrow be submitted to the National Assembly’s standing committee ahead of a final vote, slated for early next week.
According to Interior Ministry secretary of state Sak Setha, the group endorsed four changes in response to Tuesday’s public consultation, which the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party walked out of in protest.
Setha said the number of required NGO founders would be reduced from five to three, while a provision barring former leaders of deregistered organisations from starting new groups would be scrapped.
The government will also tweak provisions allowing the Ministry of Interior to block applications or deregister groups if they jeopardise peace, stability and public order or harm the national security, national unity, culture and traditions of the Cambodian national society, though the changes amounted to a single word’s insertion.
To “clarify” the passage, Setha said they changed “culture” to “good culture” and “traditions” to “good traditions”.
The Ministry of Interior will also develop a prakas laying out the requirements for minors to form NGOs. Previous versions of the law blocked minors from starting groups.
Transparency International executive director Preap Kol yesterday said the changes fell far short of addressing concerns and did not reflect a meaningful attempt by the government to listen to NGOs.
“A half-day consultation with a 45-minute time slot for questions is not enough to handle the numerous concerns,” Kol said.
Koul Panha, head of government watchdog Comfrel, agreed, saying the legislation remained a “severe violation” of Cambodia’s constitution and international human rights conventions.
“There are almost 25 articles that create very serious problems with the right of freedom of association, freedom of expression and the right to participate in political, economic and social activities,” Panha said.
“Changing it is not about a few sentences and one day of [consideration]; it is not enough.”
About 300 people yesterday called for the proposed bill’s scrapping during a rally at Freedom Park.
The government maintains the law is necessary to regulate the sector and ensure terrorists aren’t financing rogue organisations.
Opponents, including hundreds of civil society groups, the opposition, the United Nations, the United States and the European Union, fear proposed mandatory registration and annual reporting requirements for NGOs will be used to restrict civil society.