King’s Signature Brings Much Criticized NGO Law Into Force

King Norodom Sihamoni signed the NGO law on Wednesday, according to a government official, bringing into effect a piece of legislation that has been internationally rebuked as a serious threat to free speech and association.

The Law on Associations and Non-Government Organizations requires all NGOs, save the smallest community-based groups, to register with the state and file annual reports on their activities. It gives ministries the power to shut down groups they decide are failing to remain politically neutral or jeopardizing Cambodian traditions.

But Chhim Phal Virun, deputy head of the Council of Minister’s Council of Jurists, which released the official copy of the law and the accompanying royal decree Thursday, confirmed the king’s signature.

“When the Royal Decree is disseminated, it means [the king] signed off on the law,” Mr. Phal Virun said, adding that the king signed the law on Wednesday.

The government claims it needs the law to combat money laundering and keep terrorist groups from funneling money into the country through NGOs.

Critics dismiss the argument as disingenuous and say the government has all the legislation it needs to counter such threats. They fear the CPP intends to use the law’s vague provisions to shut down some of its most vocal critics.

“Let no one be fooled,” Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director, said in a statement Thursday, “the enactment of this law on NGOs means Prime Minister Hun Sen now has an axe in hand to go after the various human rights and anti-corruption groups that have been defending Cambodian communities and blowing the whistle on his rapacious schemes for years.”

Brittis Edman, Southeast Asia program director for the Stockholm-based Civil Rights Defenders, joined Mr. Robertson in slamming the law.

“This draconian law is a real threat to Cambodia’s civil society,” Ms. Edman said in a statement. “The international community must continue its efforts to challenge it, and monitor potentially abusive enforcement.”

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