Proposed Cambodian NGO Law Fundamentally Flawed and Should be Abandoned

Washington

Cambodia’s proposed law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) contains provisions that place troubling restrictions on the ability of NGOs to organize and function effectively. Freedom House calls on the Cambodian government to abandon the law in its current version as it is fundamentally flawed.
 
A second draft of the proposed law, which has been in the works for some months, was unveiled by the Cambodian government late last week. The latest version of the law still contains a mandatory registration provision, which would ban all activities of organizations that are not officially registered with a signed memorandum of understanding with the government. The draft is also vague in scope and contains ambiguous language that could make it easier for the government to arbitrarily shut down civil society groups or deny registration. Additionally, the current draft has no option for an appeals process—which had been present in the original version—leaving an organization with no recourse once  it has been rejected by the government.
 
“The proposed law, in its current form, undermines the very basis of an independent and vibrant civil society and would have a chilling effect on democratic development in the country,” said Paula Schriefer, Freedom House director of advocacy. “While we understand that all governments have a legitimate interest in preventing criminal activity and regulating organizations that become legal entities, these regulations should not be used as a tool to undermine fundamental freedoms related to association, expression, and assembly. Such rights are protected under the Cambodian Constitution and under the international treaties to which the Royal Government of Cambodia is a signatory.”
 
Last Tuesday, select NGO and association representatives met with the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to raise concerns about the latest version of the law, which failed to incorporate their recommendations that the law be more transparent and consistent with existing constitutional protections.
 
“Despite the willingness of civil society groups to engage in good faith with the government when the first draft was first released last year, the process of consultation has been pure window dressing with recommendations from the NGO community blatantly ignored,” Schriefer continued.
 
Cambodia is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2010.
 
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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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