Watchdog Will not Back Down
PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Despite being blasted by the Foreign Ministry late last month for publicly criticizing the draft law on associations and NGOs, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights continues to question the contentious legislation.
It will also send observers to the National Assembly this week as representatives of civil society will be lobbying lawmakers to scrap sections of the legislation they say are dangerous.
Wan-Hea Lee, the Office’s country representative for Cambodia, said the draft she saw was alarming. “Several provisions are worded in such a way that the legitimate exercise of freedom of opinion, expression and assembly could be curtailed and subjected to criminal sanction,” she explained.
The draft law “should be opened for a thorough public review and informed discussion prior to its enactment, as should all draft laws,” Ms. Lee said.
Late last month, Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong rebuked four UN agencies working here for publicly urging the government to ensure the process of drafting and enacting the law is transparent and open to the public. “You should perform your activities by respecting the UN Charter and your specific mandate,” the ministry responded.
Mr. Namhong also met with Ms. Lee and three other UN officials to discuss their public stance against the legislation.
“There are no words allowing you to comment and/or criticize the Royal Government about the draft laws, which are not under your mandate,” the ministry warned.
Ms. Lee, however, disagrees. She said that the work done by UN agencies in Cambodia relies on the work of NGOs and other associations. “Many development partners active in Cambodia work very closely with civil society organizations, who are key stakeholders,” Ms. Lee explained.
“As representatives of rights-holders, particularly those that might be affected by our projects, as service providers, or as researchers on important issues of relevance, civil society organizations contribute significantly to the work supported by development partners,” she added.
She said her office is “ready to support and participate in any consultations on [the draft legislation] that might be organized by the National Assembly.”
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