Wednesday, August 3, 2011

NGO and Associations Joint Statement on the Third draft of the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations

NGO and Associations Joint Statement on the
Third draft of the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations

We, civil society organizations including Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations, highly appreciate that state-civil society cooperation has been a key factor in the development of Cambodia from a war-torn country to a peaceful vibrant developing country. Many times government and civil society organizations have had different opinions but met in constructive discussions, and more frequently still, government and civil society organizations have met in good cooperation.

The proposed NGO legislation indicates a departure from this successful path. Civil society organizations, including associations and NGOs, are very concerned that the law in its third draft gives far-reaching power to the authorities to control the rights of citizens to organize and express themselves. These rights are set out in the Cambodia Constitution (article 31, 35, 42) and international treaties that Cambodia has signed, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 2(1)) and the International Convention on Citizens and Political Rights (ICCPR) (article 14, 22).

Civil Society in Cambodia is diverse; there are different types of organizations, associations, groups, interests and positions. This diversity is our strength, and demonstrates the important range of perspectives the sector contributes to Cambodia’s development. We have now collectively drawn together voices from this broad base into all our discussions on the NGO Law, and there have been many responses. Some organizations decided they would make a strong case that there was no need for the law, some organizations decided to engage with the government consultation in an attempt to improve the law, some organizations chose to lobby on behalf of their specific issues within the law. All these organizations have kept a dialogue throughout, respecting each other’s perspectives – this is what democracy is about.

Today we all stand together: whatever our separate approaches in addressing our concerns about the proposed law, our opinion is united - the draft law we now see before us is unacceptable and we cannot support it in its current form.

We understand that a sovereign state such as Cambodia has the right to promulgate laws, regulations and practices in accordance with international democratic principles. However, the process of enacting laws must respect those democratic principles. Moreover the Law itself must not infringe upon the fundamental rights of the people, including their rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression. The social and economic development of Cambodia in recent years would never have happened if the opportunities to freely organize and express opinions had been curtailed. Successful development of societies worldwide goes hand-in-hand with increased openness.

In our view, thethirddraft Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations has not changed significantly from the second draft.   Hence it fails to respect the fundamental rights as outlined above.

We would like to point out four main areas of concern in the current third draft Law: 
1.     The third draft of law does not incorporate the written comments which we submitted to H.E. Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister of Interior on January 12, 2011.In the attached consolidated recommendations, the registration of an association and NGOs should be voluntary.
2.     The law does not include a time period for an appeals process for the denial of registration
3.     Registration is mandatory and complex, rather than voluntary and simple.
4.     Key terms in the law are left undefined, and many sections are vague

Article 6 on Prohibiting Provisions of the third draft law remains effectively unchanged. A clause has been added which states that associations or NGOs not registered will not enjoy any benefit from the law. However this is effectively undermined by the second part of the clause which states that such organizations may not operate in the name of an association or NGO.  Registration is thus mandatory and unregistered groups are banned. The draft law’s mandatory registration requirements constitute restrictions on the freedom of association which violate the principles Cambodia has promised to adhere to under Article 22 of the ICCPR. Under Article 22, as well as other major international conventions, “freedom of association is a right, and not something that must first be granted by the government to citizens.”

Although we recognize the inclusion of the right to appeal in Article 17, this appeal process remains undefined.  Both domestic and foreign entities should be provided with a written explanation in case of denial, and both should be entitled to appeal that denial in court on an expedited basis and remain functional while court proceeding takes place.

Articles 17 and 32, which deal with applications for registration and requests for memoranda of understanding, lack important safeguards such as objective standards for review. These articles undermine Article 65 of Civil Code.

During the consultation process, civil society organizations have clearly pointed out these weaknesses but to no avail. We are deeply disappointed that the third draft fails to address these main areas of concern.

We, the undersigned NGOs and Associations therefore collectively and respectfully call on the Royal Government of Cambodia to reconsider our key asks and incorporate them in the next draft of the Law. We also ask that the final draft be shared publicly before it is approved by the Council of Ministers or by the National Assembly.

NGOs and Associations stand ready to use our democratic rights to express our discontent through democratic and peaceful means. 

Some NGOs provided their comment regarding the third draft of NGOs Law. Please click here to see those comments: CCHR, LICADHO and ICNL (we post ready), Anonymous organization 

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