Phnom Penh (dpa) – A plan to tighten regulation of Cambodia’s 4,000 non-governmental organizations was slammed by rights groups Monday, but defended as necessary by the administration.
Thirty development and human rights groups wrote to the National Assembly saying the bill, to be debated this week, included “onerous” restrictions on their work.
The terms of the draft legislation were “in violation of the right to freedom of association,” the letter said.
It was signed by Global Witness, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as German development organization Welthungerhilfe and the Heinrich Boll Foundation.
They expressed particular concern over compulsory registration, the ban on anything that might adversely affect Cambodia’s security or culture, and the mandatory political neutrality.
A draft copy of the bill shown to dpa said the country’s more than 4,000 NGOs and other associations must be registered, or be fined between 5 and 10 million riel (1,200-2,400 dollars).
Foreign NGOs would have to renew their registration every three years, and have individual projects approved by the government.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the law was long overdue since Cambodia returned to democratic rule in 1993. “The US, UK and other countries have an NGO law. Why not in Cambodia?” he said.
He dismissed the objection that it was drafted with inadequate compensation, saying it had written input from some 500 individuals and a number of foreign embassies.
He also defended the political neutrality clause, pointing to the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR)’s frequent criticism of the ruling party by way of example.
“They abuse the principles of NGOs and non government organizations,” he said. “If you want to be a political organisation, file for [registration as] political party.”