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Cambodia: Draft Law on NGOs

(Oct. 18, 2011) On October 14, 2011, a United Nations human rights expert criticized a draft Cambodian law on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as potentially in violation of international law, notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. (Cambodian Draft Law on NGOs May Breach International Pact, UN Rights Expert Warns, UN NEWS CENTRE (Oct. 14, 2011); International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (signed Dec. 16, 1966, and in force from Mar. 23, 1976).) The Covenant was ratified by Cambodia on May 26, 1992.(Status as at 17-10-2011 (last visited Oct. 17, 2011).)

The draft legislation would require associations and other NGOs to register and would ban groups that were not registered. Maina Kiai, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, stated that the draft in its current form “contains a set of problematic provisions, raising concerns over a potential negative impact on Cambodian citizens' democratic participation in furthering the development of their country.” (Cambodia's Draft NGO Law Must be Fully in Line with International Law – UN Experts, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) website (Oct. 14, 2011); for background on the history of the drafting process, see Cambodia, The International Center for Not-For-Profit Law website (last updated Oct. 6, 2011).)

Kiai went on to argue that the right to freedom of association should not be subject to a registration requirement and that the draft “constitutes a clear infringement of the right to freedom of association.” (OHCHR website, supra.) In addition, the Special Rapporteur denounced the draft because it “excludes refugees, stateless persons and other non-Cambodian residents in Cambodia from forming associations or domestic NGOs by limiting eligible founding members to Cambodian nationals.” (Id.)

Other aspects of the draft law also raised concerns, including the requirement for a large number of members in any association and the need for a clear statement of the standards to be met by NGOs for their registration, suspension, or termination. In addition, the U.N. expert pointed out that the registration process for foreign NGOs to operate within the country is “overly cumbersome and bureaucratic” in the draft. (Id.)

Kiai did praise the Cambodian government for issuing a statement, through the country's ambassador, to the U.N. Human Rights Council promising that further consultations would be sought before the law is finalized. (UN NEWS CENTRE, supra.)