Thursday, June 16, 2011

Second Global Assembly of the Open Forum for Civil Society Organizations Development Effectiveness

Second Global Assembly of the Open Forum for Civil Society Organizations Development Effectiveness
 Siem Reap, Cambodia, June 28-30th 2011

The passage of the draft law on associations & non governmental organizations (NGOs) would severely impair the effectiveness of civil society and development organizations working in Cambodia. In particular, it would directly undermine at least two of the eight guiding Principles of CSO Development Effectiveness, which advocate, among other things focusing on people’s empowerment, democratic ownership and participation and pursuing equitable partnerships and solidarity.

The most recent draft of the law, released on March 24, 2011, is a clear attempt by the Cambodian government to control civil society and stifle dissent. The government claimed to have taken into account a number of concerns raised by civil society after the release of the first draft of the law in December 2010. However, the most significant concerns were not addressed and any changes were mostly cosmetic. The government has also repeatedly said that passing the law is a top priority. Following national and international outcries, the law is still in draft form, but it is widely expected that the government will try and pass the law before the end of 2011.

The law enforces mandatory registration of associations and NGOs, which is a flagrant violation of freedom of association and other fundamental rights. It also imposes burdensome registration requirements, which would severely restrict the operation of rural grassroots groups, informal networks and associations operating with limited resources. It gives authorities unbounded discretion to approve registration applications, with few guidelines to transparently steer these decisions. There is no appeals process if registration is denied. Many of the provisions in the law are directly contrary to its own Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Cambodia has ratified.

In summary, the law would give the government total control over civil society: arbitrary decision in the registration process would make it easy for the government to prevent certain groups from operating. For international civil society partners, supporting people’s empowerment and democratic ownership in Cambodia should be of primary concern. The law threatens to lead to the dissolution of a number of critical groups unable to meet the registration requirements. These groups, familiar with the Cambodian context, are an important source of information on human rights and development in the country. Without them, international civil society organizations and development partners would likely be operating blindly. This will seriously undermine the effectiveness of their investments.

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