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‘NGOs may operate without restriction’

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Interior Minister Sar Kheng issues a directive to allow registered civil society organisations to carry out activities without restriction or prior notice. Heng Chivoan

‘NGOs may operate without restriction’

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng on Tuesday instructed municipal and provincial authorities to facilitate the activities of civil society organisations and local communities without restriction and prior notice as previously required.

“NGOs and associations, including local communities that have already registered with the ministry, have complete freedom to legally carry out activities without having to inform local authorities three days beforehand as they did before,” Sar Kheng said in a directive dated November 27.

The instruction came nearly one month after the interior minister issued a similar guideline on cooperation between authorities at all levels with civil society groups.

Soeung Sen Karuna, the senior investigating officer for rights group Adhoc, welcomed the directive.

“There have been [negative] reactions from NGOs in various fields including human rights, advocacy and election observation to authorities’ restriction on their activities."

“We have demanded wider space for our activities and it’s good to see the Ministry of Interior issue guidelines and create task forces to facilitate our activities,” he said.

Karuna said while the pro-NGO directive is a good sign, he worries that the instruction may fall on deaf ears.

“I don’t know how good the local authorities’ actual implementation will be. Generally, we welcome the directive but we want it to be widely disseminated, particularly by pro-government media outlets."

“Over the past years, any action against civil society organisations had been broadcast by pro-government media, so we want them to also publicise the directive to help relevant authorities understand [our rights],” he said.

Theng Savoeun, the director of the NGO Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC), echoed Karuna’s concerns.

“We hope local authorities will follow the directive when dealing with civil society organisations and when the NGOs carry out their activities,” he said.

Savoeun cited examples of actual practices over the past years, saying local authorities have been known to restrict NGOs’ activities despite the fact that they have already registered with the ministry.

San Chey, the executive director of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, said the directive is apparently aimed at revising the existing law to provide more space for NGOs.

“It remains to be seen whether the directive will become effective. We’ll wait and see how the new directive and task forces created by the Ministry of Interior will help civil society organisations. We will continue to observe how much the authorities at sub-national level can implement this,” he said.

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