More than 60 international nongovernmental organizations yesterday called on the Foreign and Interior ministries to redraft the NGO law, which has been criticized for restricting civil society and undermining the freedom of association. The Interior Ministry said the imminent passage of a draft law to the Cabinet would not be delayed.
Foreign NGOs echoed concerns voiced by NGO umbrella groups, associations and human rights groups last week over threats that they say are still posed by the newest draft.
“Restrictive, ambiguous and allowing for unfettered discretion, the draft does more harm than good to associations, NGOs and the Cambodian public,” said the letter addressed to Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and Interior Minister Sar Kheng. It invited the government to suspend drafting the law “until it is substantially rewritten.”
So far, the government has not incorporated proposed changes to address flaws, some of which have worsened, according to the letter, signatories of which included Oxfam, World Vision, CARE, PSI and PH-Japan Foundation.
Secretary of State Nuth Sa An said that the Interior Ministry would not delay the draft law’s progress. “To delay or not delay is the right of the ministry,” Mr Sa An said, denying that the draft law had any problems. On Sunday, he said that the draft would go to the Cabinet by next week.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said that the letter’s signatories represented less than 70 of the more than 3,000 NGOs and associations operating here.
“They don’t have the goodwill to have this law,” Lt Gen Sopheak said. The more than 2,900 organizations remaining “have no complaints,” he said.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said that lobbying by foreign NGOs was not enough and that the donor community also needed to join them.
“International NGOs should also complain to their governments to ask why they ignore” this draft law, he said.
The US, the third-largest bilateral donor, has said the draft law is not necessary.
(Additional reporting by Hul Reaksmey)
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