Activists protest against controversial Cambodian draft law on NGOs

About 200 people from roughly 40 nongovernmental organizations joined rights activists on Tuesday to protest a decision by the Cambodian parliament’s Permanent Committee to move forward with a controversial draft law that regulates such groups operating in the developing nation. 

The protestors outside the National Assembly (parliament) building in the capital Phnom Penh threatened to not vote for any political parties that approved the draft Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO).

NGOs and rights groups oppose the draft law because they say it would restrict their activities in the impoverished country.

Am Sam Ath, senior investigator of the domestic rights group Licadho, told RFA’s Khmer Service that the draft law would jeopardize NGOs’ rights and restrict their freedom to do their jobs. 

“Other countries have NGO laws, but those laws protect NGOs and other associations and enable them to help develop countries,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service. 

Vorn Pao, president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA) said if parliament approved the draft law, NGOs would continue to oppose it. 

The groups have pointed out that the government has failed to include them in discussions about the most recent version of the draft law.

Besides restrictions on their community activities, the NGOs are also concerned about uncertainty as to whether unregistered organizations may continue operating and about the disbandment of NGOs.

The groups also fear that the draft law incorporates few amendments to an earlier draft released in 2011, which was later withdrawn following heavy local and international criticism.

During the protest, only lawmakers from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) accepted petitions from the protestors, while lawmakers from the ruling Cambodia People’s Party were nowhere to be seen.

CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay accepted petitions from the protestors and told them that his party opposes the draft law not out concern for of political advantage, but rather because it feels a responsibility to voters. 

“We will work to prevent the draft law from being passed,” he said. 

Nine of the 13 Permanent Committee members voted to approve that the draft law be passed on to parliament for review. It now moves to the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Commission before it is returned it to the Permanent Committee. It then will be submitted to all lawmakers to vote on.

About 5,000 NGOs operate in Cambodia, actively assisting with its development in the areas of human rights, democracy, health care, social work and agriculture.

Copyright © 1998-2014, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036.

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