Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cambodia – New draft NGO law would severely restrict the work of human rights defenders

The below is statement of Frontline international which has objective to protect human rights defenders in the world. 
 On 15 December 2010, a new draft Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in Cambodia was publicly released. The provisions of the draft law are highly restrictive and, if passed, the law could have a severely detrimental impact upon the work of human rights defenders in Cambodia.

The draft law introduces compulsory registration for all NGOs before being allowed to “operate any activity” and imposes burdensome, overly bureaucratic registration requirements on organisations, accompanied by vague provisions which, it is feared, may provide for arbitrary and selective denial of registration and, thus, the criminalisation and/or closure of NGOs and other associations. These provisions would pose particular problems for unregistered grassroots networks, Community-based Organisations (CBOs), and other informal associations who may be unable or unwilling to fulfill the necessary requirements for registration.

Furthermore, the draft bill imposes a duty upon international organisations to “collaborate” with government ministries in the planning, monitoring, implementation and evaluation of their projects. The nature of such “collaboration”, however, is undefined and its necessity unjustified.

It is feared that provisions such as those outlined above, among others contained in the draft law, will severely restrict the freedom and independence of civil society in Cambodia and impede the development and consolidation of a vibrant and democratic political culture. Moreover, the provisions of the draft law are directly contrary to the international human rights norms and standards contained in, inter alia, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), to which Cambodia is party, and the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Furthermore, while recognising the State's legitimate interest in the regulation of organisations which become legal entities and the prevention of criminal activities, it must be pointed out that such concerns are already adequately addressed by the provisions of existing Cambodian laws and regulations: NGOs may at present obtain legal status through the recently adopted Civil Code, articles 46-118, which provide for the registration of organisations – with less burdensome requirements for doing so – as well as their dissolution; international organisations may also obtain legal status through the adoption of Memoranda of Understanding with the government. The prior existence of such legitimate means of regulating NGOs suggest that the motive for the introduction of the new law is not regulation, but rather the extension of unprecedented and arbitrary government control over the activities of human rights defenders and organisations.

Front Line urges the authorities in Cambodia to:
1. Extend the review process and ensure that an open and thorough consultation is carried out with all relevant local and foreign non-governmental organisations;
2. Guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders and non-governmental organisations in Cambodia are free to carry out their legitimate activities in defending and protecting the rights of others, without fear of reprisals and all restrictions, including exclusory registration requirements.

Front Line respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw you attention to Article 5 (b): “For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels:(b) To form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups,” and to Article 13: “Everyone has the
right, individually and in association with others, to solicit, receive and utilize resources for the express purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms through peaceful means...”.

Yours sincerely,

Mary Lawlor

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