Hundreds of groups and associations sought to convey a united front against the government’s controversial draft NGO law yesterday, calling it “unacceptable”.
A joint statement supported by 315 organisations and released yesterday stated that the draft law “indicates a departure” from two decades of successful cooperation between government and civil society, violating constitutional and internationally recognised rights to free association and expression.
“Civil society organisations … are very concerned that the law in its second draft gives far-reaching power to the authorities to control the rights of citizens to organise and express themselves,” it said.
The groups called on the government to incorporate their recommendations into a third draft, which they said should be shared publicly before being approved by the Council of Ministers.
“Today we all stand together: whatever our separate approaches in addressing our concerns about the proposed law, our opinion is united – the draft law we now see before us is unacceptable and we cannot support it in its current form,” the statement said. The organisations singled out mandatory registration, the absence of an appeal process when NGO registration is denied and important terms left undefined in the law as provisions that fail to respect fundamental human rights.
The groups said they “stand ready to use our democratic rights to express our discontent through democratic and peaceful means”.
Lun Borithy, executive director of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, told The Post on Monday that civil society organisations would “do everything that is possible within the law” to continue pressuring for revisions.
Khieu Sopheak, Ministry of Interior spokesman, said on Monday that the ministry was still considering recommendations by NGOs and associations, and would send the law to the Council of Ministers after the Khmer New Year holiday.
He said there were an estimated 3,000 NGOs in Cambodia, but only a few objected to the law.
“All the other NGOs, they didn’t have any complaint,” Khieu Sopheak said.
“If we abandon this law it means that we are abandon[ing] our Cambodian constitution.”