Local civil society groups have submitted suggested revisions of the Kingdom’s proposed NGO Law to the government, though it remains to be seen how the recommendations will be reflected in the legislation.
Nuth Sa An, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, said he had submitted recommendations proposed by NGOs to Minister Sar Kheng.
“Many points they said need to change have been sent to Sar Kheng for approval,” he said. “There will be a meeting again with NGOs,” he added.
After the government held a consultative meeting on January 10, four umbrella organisations – the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, Medicam, NGO Forum on Cambodia and the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee – requested further public debate and a joint government-civil society committee charged with making revisions to the law.
Instead, the Ministry of Interior invited their leadership to an all-day meeting, which took place on Friday and also included a representative from Oxfam.
Lun Borithy, executive director of CCC, said the government had also “committed to sharing a second draft” of the law before submitting it to the Council of Ministers. However, there are no plans to hold another large consultation meeting, he said.
“There was some sort of verbal agreement that there is a need to change [the law] and further look into it,” Lun Borithy said.
“Overall, about 80 percent of recommendations put forward by civil society were taken on board.”
He acknowledged, however, that the government made no guarantees the proposed changes would be reflected in the final legislation.
“It was only a discussion, we can only be sure that the comments are fully accepted when we see the second draft.”
NGOs have raised concerns that the mandatory registration process in the draft law would be too burdensome for community-based organisations or informal groups and would violate the right to associate.
But Nuth Sa An said he advanced a compromise to Sar Kheng that would allow community-based groups that are part of umbrella organisations to avoid registration.
“Now we will allow the central-based NGOs to list their community NGOs so that we recognise them and they have no need to get licences,” he said. “If the central NGO does not recognise them, the small NGO must file for a licence so that it’s easy to manage them.”
Sok Sam Oeun, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said the government had agreed to insert language allowing organisations to appeal a rejected application for registration to the courts.
Provisions of the law affecting international NGOs were not discussed because they fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lun Borithy said.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said the government could easily change the law outright by avoiding further public debate.
“You could get the government to agree verbally, but I wouldn’t be surprised if most of these things mentioned are not written down,” he said.
“Because of that, the outcome of the law could be something else completely different.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHHAY CHANNYDA