Cambodia: approved NGO law poised to hobble the work of civil society
The ICJ today condemned the approval by the Cambodian Peoples’ Party (CPP) of a law which aims to pose obstacles to and restrictions on the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in order to be officially registered in the country.
In June and July 2015, the ICJ and other international human rights groups sent joint letters to the Government of Cambodia, including to Prime Minister Hun Sen and the President of the National Assembly, urging for the withdrawal of the draft law.
“It is extremely disappointing that the Government has chosen to ignore widespread national and international criticism of the draft LANGO and calls for it to be withdrawn,” said Kingsley Abbott, International Legal Adviser for the ICJ.
“There is no doubt that the draft law’s restrictions on freedom of association and expression, in contravention of international law and standards, will severely impair civil society’s ability to carry out its vital work,” he added.
Today, the Cambodian National Assembly unanimously approved the draft Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (draft LANGO) promoted by the Cambodian Peoples Party (CPP) after 55 members of the opposition party, Cambodia National Rescue Party, decided to boycott the vote.
All 68 members of the CPP, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, attended the plenary session of the National Assembly and voted in favor of the draft law.
The draft LANGO will still have to be adopted by the Senate, and thereafter, receive the assent of the Cambodian King before it becomes law.
The ICJ calls on the Senate to reject the draft LANGO.
“The fact that the legislation was passed without genuine consultation with civil society tends to suggest that the Government’s intention is to weaken the impact of NGOs, including human rights defenders,” Abbott said.
The draft law’s most problematic provisions include:
- excessive documentation required for the registration of both domestic and international associations and NGOs;
- arbitrary powers of the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs to deny or revoke registration on the grounds of “public security, stability and order, or generate a threat to national security, national unity or the culture, traditions and customs of Cambodian national society”;
- the requirement that associations “adhere to a stance of neutrality vis à vis political parties”, and provisions that allow for the suspension and dissolution of groups that violate this requirement;
- the requirement that NGOs report to several ministries and to submit an annual report summing up work activities and finances; and
- the inclusion of sweeping provisions for the suspension and dissolution of domestic and international associations and NGOs.
The draft LANGO, if ultimately adopted and implemented, would bring Cambodia into non-compliance with international law and standards.
As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Cambodia must guarantee the rights to freedom of expression and association and ensure that no restrictions are put in place except under the strict conditions set out in articles 19(3) and 22(2) of the ICCPR. These conditions clearly have not been met under the terms of the draft LANGO.
In addition, Article 2 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders provides that each “State has a prime responsibility and duty to protect, promote and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms, inter alia, by adopting such steps as may be necessary to create all conditions necessary in the social, economic, political and other fields, as well as the legal guarantees required to ensure that all persons under its jurisdiction, individually and in association with others, are able to enjoy all those rights and freedoms in practice.
Article 8 states that everyone “has the right, individually and in association with others, to have effective access…to participation in the government of his or her country and in the conduct of public affairs…[including] the right, to submit to governmental bodies and agencies and organizations concerned with public affairs criticism and proposals for improving their functioning and to draw attention to any aspect of their work that may hinder or impede the promotion, protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Kingsley Abbott, ICJ’s International Legal Adviser, t: +668 4092 3575 ; e: kingsley.abbott(a)icj.orgNewsPress releases