By Lauren Crothers
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia
Cambodian senators have been urged to seriously amend or reject a controversial law on the regulation of NGOs when it goes to a vote tomorrow, a rights group said Thursday.
In an open letter addressed to Senate President Say Chhum -- sent out Thursday by Cambodian Center for Human Rights executive director Chak Sopheap -- the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations is described as being a source of “grave concern” as it stands.
It is also accompanied by an analysis of the law’s key concerns, as well as some recommendations.
“It would be an important development if the details of these reservations could be considered by you, prior to the vote of the [law] at the forthcoming Senate meeting,” Sopheap wrote.
“Such consideration would in turn enrich and legitimize the Senate deliberations and decision-making process,” he added. “In the event that the law will be approved without amendment, the legitimacy of the [law] and the democratic nature of Cambodia will be brought into question amidst significant public scrutiny and criticism.”
The law was passed unanimously by 68 members of Parliament from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party on July 13, after 55 opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers staged a boycott in support of concerns raised by local and international NGOs.
In its analysis, the Center called upon the senators to amend the law to exclude small, community based organizations from having to register themselves officially, because doing so could restrict the activities of grassroots movements.
The Center also called for mandatory registration to be scrapped, and for registration parameters to be simplified. Vague language on de-registration should also be removed before the law is considered worthy of being passed, it said.
Hong Sok Hour, a senator who holds one of the Sam Rainsy Party’s 11 seats, told Anadolu Agency by phone Thursday that he and his colleagues have decided to boycott the floor Friday, based on the outcome of Senate commission talks held last week.
He said ruling party senators present continue to argue that the law is necessary to weed out terrorist groups that may want to use Cambodia as a base.
“[W]e were discussing [our concerns] in the commission and we tried to convince [the CPP senators] to listen more to NGOs who did not agree with this law, because we have reason to believe that this law will not respect the freedom of expression,” Sok Hour said.
“But they said that we need this law to fight terrorism and have more transparency. They said we have needed it since 1993, 1994, and that there are laws like this around the world, so why not here?”
Sok Hour told Anadolu Agency he believes any “debate” Friday will simply amount to “theatre,” because the CPP senators are in the same frame of mind about the law.
CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan could not be reached.