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Cambodia: Law on NGOs Passed

(July 15, 2015) On July 13, 2015, Cambodia’s legislature adopted a new law designed to regulate the country’s approximately 5,000 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations passed with unanimous support from the ruling party, while all the opposition party members of the legislature boycotted the vote, and street protests took place expressing dissent. (Cambodian Parliament Passes Controversial NGO Law, JAKARTA POST (July 13, 2015); Prak Chan Thul, Cambodia Passes Law to Regulate NGOs Despite Concerns, DAILY MAIL (July 13, 2015).)

The Law was proposed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 1, 2015, as a draft to be submitted to the legislature. Sen stated that the Law was necessary because “without it, the government does not know the sources of funding of NGOs,” and some funds could be coming from terrorist groups. (NGO Law Monitor: Cambodia, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law website (Apr. 3, 2015).)

Provisions

The Law sets up registration requirements for domestic and international NGOs, with domestic groups registered with and supervised by the Ministry of the Interior and international bodies managed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. There are quarterly reporting requirements for the international NGOs. (Id.)

All groups must report on their activities and finances; those that do not do so could be punished with fines or restrictions on their activities. Orders to disband can be issued to groups if their actions “jeopardize peace, stability and public order or harm the national security, national unity, culture, and traditions of Cambodian society.” (Cambodian Parliament Passes Controversial NGO Law, supra.)

Reactions to the Law

Advocates for NGOs have criticized the Law for its lack of procedural guarantees; registration can be refused at the government’s discretion. (NGO Law Monitor: Cambodia, supra.) Furthermore, the opposition political party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, has said that the Law will be implemented to “‘pressure and restrict’ individuals and organizations” and will diminish democracy in Cambodia. (Cambodian Parliament Passes Controversial NGO Law, supra.)

This view has been echoed by human rights groups, U.N. officials, and diplomats from Western nations. Chak Sopheap of the Cambodian Center for human Rights said, “[t]oday is a very sad day for civil society in Cambodia.” (Id.)

In response to the criticism, the Minister of the Interior, Sar Kheng, conceded, “[n]othing is perfect. People have the right to criticize.” He added, however, “[d]on’t worry – this law will not affect or restrict the rights and freedoms of civil society groups.” He suggested that the government would use a “light touch” in implementing the Law. (Id.)

Nin Saphon, a Member of Parliament from the governing political party, stated in support of the Law that previously the authorities were not “able to control NGOs, on where their funding came from and how it was used. … We need to have this law now.” (Prak Chan Thul, supra.)