CAMBODIA: Civil society up in arms over proposed law to curb NGO activities
10 October 2008 6:25 am
Cambodian civil society are unhappy over Prime Minister Hun Sen's proposed NGO Law, saying it was "unnecessary", and that "terrorism and fraud" can be solved through more effective means.
Hun Sen proposed the law following his statement in the first meeting of his new cabinet recently that "We are concerned that their funding could come from terrorist groups.The Opposition and legal fraternity, including local human rights groups have criticised the proposal to introduce tighter regulations for NGOs, saying the restrictions go beyond what is needed to ensure accountability in the NGO sector.
The Ministry of Interior originally drafted the Local Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations Law in 2006, and it is expected to be passed soon by the government.
According to the Phnom Penh Post, Ngy San, deputy executive director of the NGO Forum, said his personal view was that some degree of regulation was necessary, but that its extent should be the subject of debate.
"There should be some regulation of the sector," he said. "But what should be the content of the law?"
But Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said the necessary laws were already in place, citing the long-awaited Anti-Corruption Law and other criminal legislation.
"The NGO environment is not perfect. Some NGOs are using land concessions for profit, but the solution is not to make things difficult for all NGOs. The root of the problem is that government officials are benefiting from these deals," he said. "If you pass an anti-corruption law, you prevent your own government from doing these things."
Ou Virak added that errant NGOs were no justification for the promulgation of a new law. "
The root cause is not civil society. It is NGOs that have some link to people high up in the government," he said. "It makes you wonder where the priorities lie for the new government. The solution is going to be much worse than the problem."
Heang Rithy, president of the Cambodian National Research Organisation, agreed that the government had more pressing concerns than tightening its grip on NGOs.
"The government should create laws against corruption, conditional laws for [the appointment of] independent judges and laws to resolve land disputes," he said.