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Meeting with ministry sought to talk LANGO amendments

Members of the public and civil society protest outside the Senate building in Phnom Penh last year as officials inside vote on the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations.
Members of the public and civil society protest outside the Senate building in Phnom Penh last year as officials inside vote on the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations. Heng Chivoan

Meeting with ministry sought to talk LANGO amendments

Ministry of Interior officials will meet to discuss the internationally condemned Law on Associations and Non-governmental Organisations (LANGO) with representatives of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC), officials said yesterday following a letter sent by the group to Interior Minister Sar Kheng last week.

CCC’s January 14 letter had requested a meeting with Kheng himself and outlined various problems caused by the newly implemented LANGO that they say constrain the effectiveness of civil society organisations.

However, Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said yesterday that presently Sar Kheng could not meet with CCC as he is too busy. But, he added, without naming a date, the ministry will send “experts” to meet with the group, which represents roughly 160 national and international organisations.

Maintaining that LANGO had not affected community actions, Sopheak stressed that the law – which took effect on January 1 – should be adhered to, before going on to liken the regulations on civil society to those on drunk driving.

“The law is the law. For instance, if the law bans drinking while driving, it is the law, so obeying the law requires patience; the law is binding and coercive and everyone must follow,” he said.

In the lead-up to the parliamentary vote on LANGO, rights groups strenuously protested against its adoption, saying clauses such as the one requiring groups to be “politically neutral” could be broadly interpreted and used to clamp down on NGOs unpopular with the government.

Am Sam Ath, senior technical adviser at rights group Licadho – a signatory to CCC’s letter – said the law puts up bureaucratic obstacles such as annual reports on activities and registration with the Ministry of Interior.

“If they look at the reports and find anything considered incitement, they could temporarily stop and terminate any NGO,” he said, adding that civil society organisations intend to submit evidence of how the law impedes their operations.

In an email yesterday, deported Mother Nature activist Alex Gonzalez Davidson wrote that while LANGO has not been used directly against the group, they have acted preemptively to avoid “future headaches”.

Davidson held that due to the restrictions, NGOs can no longer risk keeping operating funds in a Cambodian bank account.

“The reason is simple: this new repressive law obliges all NGOs to share with the [Ministry of Interior] information related to funds . . . which can then be used by the [ministry] to pressure donors into not supporting the NGOs they don’t like.”

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