United Nations experts have said that Cambodia’s proposed NGO law could violate international law and have called for a meeting with the government to discuss it.
Three UN special rapporteurs spoke out against the dangers of the latest draft of the legislation in a statement released on Friday. They said that, if passed, the draft law could break the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, to which Cambodia is a signatory.
The ICCPR preserves the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association as well as other human rights.
“The current draft NGO Law contains a set of problematic provisions, raising concerns over a potential negative impact on Cambodian citizens’ democratic participation in furthering the development of their country,” said Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.
The latest draft of the law calls for mandatory registration of associations and NGOs which Kiai believes “constitutes a clear infringement of the right to freedom of association”.
“Having a recognised legal status may confer rights and benefits to organisations such as the ability to open bank accounts, but legal status is not necessary for the enjoyment of the right to freedom of association,” Kiai said. UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, added that the draft law raised concerns about the ability of human rights activists to exercise freedom of opinion.
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya said the importance of human rights workers in democratic societies placed a “duty on states to create a favourable environment for defenders to freely carry out their activities”.
“We stand ready to provide technical support and assistance to ensure that the law meets international law standards,” the rapporteurs said. Kiai also requested an official invitation from Cambodia to discuss the draft law.
At a Human Rights Council meeting last month, Cambodia’s UN Ambassador Sea Kosal said the NGO law was currently undergoing further consultations. He called on authorities to conduct meaningful consultations with associations and NGOs.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the draft NGO law was still being reviewed by the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “I do not know what changes they have made yet and we have no idea when it will be ready to pass as law,” he said, referring all other questions to the interior and foreign affairs ministries.
Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesmen could not be reached yesterday.