[Cambodia] Proposed NGO law a threat to civil liberties, free expression, civil society says

Non-government organizations—both domestic and international—in Cambodia will push for proposed changes in the so-called NGO bill which they claim contain provisions that pose a threat to civil liberties, including freedom of expression, media reports said.

The “Phnom Penh Post” said that some 250 representatives of foreign and local NGOs met over the weekend to agree on basic points and draft a statement calling on the government to revise some of the provisions in the bill, which if passed will be known as the “Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations”.

In a preliminary statement written on 2 January, the NGO representatives noted that the proposed law is meant “to control rather than strengthen civil society; to remove civil rights; and to hinder the Cambodian democratic process”.

The group planned to submit the recommendations even before the scheduled consultation with the government on 10 January.

The “Phnom Penh Post” quoted the NGOs’ report as saying that while they “recognize the need for a law regulating non-governmental entities…[it] must be balanced to ensure the freedom of its citizens to engage in law-abiding activities without undue restrictions or burdens”.

Some provisions of the law, according to the group, caused concerns that “informal groups of people will be banned from collective activities unless they are registered formally under the law, limiting democratic and grassroots activism.”

 

One of the NGOs, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) noted in its report that the proposed law would make it harder for groups of people to form NGOs due to “onerous requirements” in the registration process.

This, the group said, will pose serious challenges to small and provincial organizations.  The assembled NGO representatives on Sunday proposed instead that informal community-based networks that share information but do not undertake activities be exempted from these requirements.

 

Also included in their proposal is the elimination of provisions that draw a distinction between Cambodian and foreign NGOs, determined on the basis of their respective staff’s nationality.

The “Phnom Penh Post” quoted NGOs’ statement as saying that this provision “effectively denies foreign nationals the right to participate as founders in either associations or domestic NGOs as well as the right of Cambodian nationals to participate when registering an international NGO”.

CCHR observed that some of the bill’s provisions are “intrusive”, as it allows the government to require NGOs to submit annual reports, including financial reports to the authorities.

 

The NGOs, led by the Cooperation Committee of Cambodia, NGO Forum on Cambodia and Medicam, published a statement in several newspapers on 2 January calling on the government for “an extended consultation process”, as they find the consultation scheduled for 10 January as too soon for their organizations to gather more inputs and prepare more recommendations.

 

The Cambodian government did not say, however, if it agreed to postpone the consultation.

 

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