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Senate passes NGO law amid boycott

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A woman protests the NGO law near security outside the Senate yesterday morning. Heng Chivoan

Senate passes NGO law amid boycott

Cambodia’s Senate yesterday approved the controversial draft law on associations and non-governmental organisations (LANGO), amid street protests and a boycott from opposition representatives in the upper house.

Following a two-hour session, all 44 Cambodia People’s Party senators present voted unanimously to endorse the draft law, which will next week head to the Constitutional Council before being presented to King Norodom Sihamoni for final approval.

As with the National Assembly vote last week, the opposition skipped the vote in protest, leaving just CPP senators to defend and praise the legislation, widely condemned as a tool to restrict and undermine the Kingdom’s civil society.

“We have heard many rumours that this law bans freedom of NGOs, that it is a negative law to implement, a law they don’t need,” said CPP senator Chum Vong, who added that the bill guaranteed NGOs’ freedom.

”[Opponents] are just a small group of NGOs. They do not represent all NGOs in Cambodia.”

Hundreds of NGOs, the UN, the US and the EU have condemned the draft, which has remained unchanged save for some minor tweaks following a single public consultation in early July.

Critics say LANGO’s rigid registration and reporting regime, and its requirement that organisations remain politically neutral will discriminate against groups critical of the ruling party.

The government, however, says the legislation will stop rogue operators and ensure organisations aren’t financed by terrorists.

Senator Ouk Kong yesterday said the law’s requirement that organisations report their finances to the Finance and Interior ministries would ensure cash is spent “in the right way”.

Interior Ministry Secretary of State Pol Lim also welcomed the Senate’s endorsement.

“Anyone talking about dropping the law is in conflict with what all NGOs want,” Lim insisted.

Outside the Senate, hundreds of protesters disagreed with that sentiment, demanding the bill be scrapped.

Confronted by about 100 security guards, the group was shuffled across the road to the Japanese Embassy, where they submitted a petition calling for intervention to stop the law.

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