A NEW draft law on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has the groups here worried
for their future.
The Ministry of Interior's draft law is "about to eliminate the ability of just
about every NGO in Cambodia to function," said Phyllis Cox, a lawyer and legal
consultant to the NGO Legal Aid of Cambodia.
The "Draft Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations" - a
drastically changed version of a 1996 draft which had substantial input from NGOs
- was submitted to the Council of Ministers June 16.
Numerous critics described it as "draconian".
Both foreign and local NGOs are particularly concerned by the funding restrictions
in the law.
Local NGOs cannot receive "foreign assistance", and foreign NGOs "may
not receive assistance from any government or any private or public organization".
Foreign NGOs may receive money only from "contributions by their own members
or fixed-levy donation from the local and foreign charities".
Another clause says that foreign NGOs may not "cause any trouble to the politics
of the Royal Goverment of Cambodia". The vague wording is open to interpretation
and democracy-building groups could be vulnerable, critics claim.
"Not only is it ill-considered, but it is written in an unclear way," Cox
The law makes a distinction between NGOs and associations, with the only apparent
difference being that an association is non-profit, but can serve the "self-interests
of the association", while the NGO can be for profit but must "serve the
"Can you have an NGO that is not an association? That's the question everyone
in the law business wants to know the answer to," Cox said.
Legal observers claimed the law had been written quickly by a few Interior officials
and sent directly to the Council of Ministers, possibly without the approval of co-ministers
Sar Kheng and You Hockry.
Khieu Sopheak, an adviser to Sar Kheng, said he knew nothing about the new draft.
Neither did several other Interior sources contacted by the Post.
It must pass through the Council and be voted on by the National Assembly before
it becomes law.
Changes can be made at both levels, but the Assembly is unlikely to meet until after
the post-election government is formed - probably in August or September.
NGO representatives say they're worried that the law reveals that a post-election,
CPP-dominated government could be controlling and restrictive.
"It's a strong indication that [the government] wants to kill the NGO scene,"
said Peter Schier, permanent representative of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. The
KAF is a German-funded organization which supports several local Cambodian NGOs,
including the respected Khmer Institute of Democracy (KID).
KID director Lao Mong Hay said NGOs should band together to protest the law. "They
cannot restrict our freedoms and rights," he said.
Calling the prospective implementation of the law "really disastrous",
Schier added: "It will not be us who will suffer, it will be them who will suffer
because they will get less aid and less assistance.
"If they do not want us, we can go."