The Cambodian Senate’s approval of the draft law this morning brings the Government one step closer to having the power to repressively monitor and restrict the registration and activities of associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), the ICJ said today.
According to information provided to the ICJ, the Senate approved the draft Law on Associations and NGOs (LANGO) at approximately 10:00am local time this morning. Opposition Senators boycotted the vote.
“The draft law, once promulgated, will severely restrict the ability of members of civil society to exercise their rights to freedom of association and expression which Cambodia has a duty to protect under its international obligations,” said Kingsley Abbott, the ICJ’s International Legal Adviser.
“The regrettable irony is that in approving this draft law, which contains the stated aims of protecting civil society interests and promoting their partnership with public authorities, the Government has totally disregarded civil society’s calls for consultation and for the draft law to be withdrawn,” he added.
On 13 July 2015, the Cambodian National Assembly adopted the draft law after 55 members of the opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), decided to boycott the vote.
The draft law will be promulgated once it receives the King’s signature, which is largely a symbolic step under the Cambodian Constitution.
The draft law’s most problematic provisions include:
- requirement of excessive documentation for the registration of both domestic and international associations and NGOs;
- arbitrary powers given to the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs to deny or revoke registration on the grounds that an association or NGO’s activities endanger public security, stability and order, constitute a threat to national security, national unity or the good culture, traditions and customs of Cambodian national society;
- the requirement that associations and NGOs 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 associations and NGOs report to several ministries and 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 law, once promulgated, will 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.”
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.
Kingsley Abbott, ICJ’s International Legal Adviser, t: +66 94 470 1345, e: kingsley.abbott(a)icj.org