Second Draft of NGO Law Falls Short on Fundamental Rights

Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)

March 31, 2011 - Phnom Penh - The second draft of the proposed Association & NGO law (NGO Law) is not significantly different from the first draft, and remains the most serious threat to civil society in Cambodia today, according to a new briefing paper from LICADHO.

The first draft of the law, released on Dec. 15, 2010, was widely condemned by civil society and international observers as an assault on Cambodians' right to freedom of association, assembly and expression. The second draft, released by the Ministry of Interior on March 24, does nothing to assuage these fears.

Registration is still mandatory for all NGOs and Associations (Article 6). Nonregistered groups are banned from operating. Key provisions are vague and open to arbitrary interpretation. And in many circumstances, the government has carte blanche to shut organizations down without appeal (Article 18 was removed from second draft).

"The law obliterates the concept of independent civil society," Naly Pilorge, director of LICADHO. "If you look at the law, article by article, then in its entirety, it's impossible to not conclude that its intent is to control certain civil society groups."

Although the government has long declared a desire for a law on NGOs and associations, officials have yet to clearly articulate the need for such legislation. The pending enactment of the 2007 Civil Code will offer a voluntary registration regime and provide sufficient regulation of all legal entities - both for-profit and non-profit. Thus far, the government's only rationalizations for the law have ranged from empty cliches about the large number of NGOs in Cambodia to bizarre proclamations about the prevention of terrorism.

The lack of clarity about the law's purpose led a high-ranking U.S. State Department official to declare bluntly in February 2011 that the United States didn't "understand the necessity of the law."

"Unlike most non-profit laws throughout the world, this law contains no substantive benefits for groups that register," adds Naly Pilorge. "It's all stick and
no carrot."

LICADHO's newest briefing paper is based on a similar paper issued in December 2010 following the release of the first draft of the "NGO law." The new briefing analyzes specific changes made throughout the second draft, but it comes to the same conclusion as the January briefing: civil society groups should not be forced to register. Voluntary registration is a prerequisite for ensuring that this law respects Cambodians' rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression under the Constitution and international treaties.

For further information, please contact:

Pilorge Naly, Director (English, French) - 012-803-650
Ham Sunrith, Deputy Director of Monitoring & Protection (Khmer) - 012-988-959

PDF format: Download full statement in English - Download full statement in Khmer