NGOs Protest LANGO at National Assembly
Soeung Saroeun (2nd-R), executive director of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, urged people to protest against a draft law on associations and NGOs, at a press conference at the Cambodiana Hotel yesterday. KT Photo: Ros Chanveasna
PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Ahead of the potentially contentious meeting between NGO representatives and government officials today about the proposed draft law on associations and NGOs (LANGO), some groups say they have been denied entry.
At a NGO forum yesterday, many civil society organizations claimed the government did not give them enough time to study or examine the law before today’s workshop, while others said they could not even get an invitation.
Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said the government announced plans to allow groups to register for a seat at the meeting. However, some NGOs were told that the National Assembly would not allow them to register, he said. Only those invited were allowed to attend, he explained at yesterday’s meeting.
Although some NGOs are boycotting tomorrow’s workshop, others say they want to attend but have not been able to do so.
“I want to join the workshop, but I could not register so far,” Mr. Kol said.
Gov’t Denies Allegation
The ruling Cambodia People’s Party said it was false that representatives of NGOs wanting to attend the meeting would be prevented from doing so.
“The National Assembly is still open for registration from all of the NGOs to debate the law,” CPP lawmaker Sok Ey San told Khmer Times.
The law aims to protect NGOs, according to the government. Its critics, however, say the legislation is intended to stifle civil society, especially NGOs that have been critical of the ruling party.
“I think that the Cambodian government will not prohibit their right of expression as they [NGOs] raised their concerns already. But this law will ensure their rights to freely operate within the country,” Mr. Ey San said.
The government has always recognized NGOs as partners in developing the country, he added.
“However, over the last 20 years, the Kingdom has no laws to govern them, and nowadays, there are about 5,000 associations and NGOs in the country, so it is necessary to set up the best laws to regulate them all,” he said.
A participant in yesterday’s meeting of NGOs, student Chhay Philiya, said the new law was needed.
“Our country should have LANGO to manage all the NGOs that are operating in Cambodia. This law will provide mutual confidence between international donors and NGOs and it will make sure that they will operate with transparency and accountability in society,” she said.
“If Cambodia has no LANGO, it will negatively impact political stability and security, because, in the past, some NGOs participated in political campaigns with some political parties,” Ms. Philiya said. “Those NGOs always say they are independent institutions and their activities nonpolitical, so what is their real purpose in Cambodia?”
Mr. Kol said that most of the NGOs he represents had the same stance on the NGO law: “The current NGOs and Association draft law is unacceptable.”
He stressed that Cambodia does not need the law and that the government is pushing it through to pressure NGOs that they disagree with it.
Cambodia already has a number of laws governing the actions and inner-workings of NGOs, and this additional law is overkill, he said.
“It is unnecessary to add more because the existing laws already cover NGOs’ work,” Mr. Kol said. “They have been enforcing the main laws, including the criminal code, civil code and anti-corruption law. That’s sufficient.”
There are no civil society organizations working in the country illegally, Mr. Kol said.
Demonstration at National Assembly
NGOs and protestors shut down the roads around the National Assembly to show opposition to the draft law yesterday.
By 9 am more than 500 people had gathered in front of the National Assembly to protest.
Government officials, however, said the demonstration was illegal.
Long Dimanche, City Hall spokesman, said the demonstrators had not sought permission in advance. “Because they did not ask permission from the Phnom Penh government to protest, it was anarchy. The Phnom Penh municipality can’t allow that,” he said.
Am Sam Ath, technical coordinator for rights group Licadho, said the Cambodian constitution allowed people to gather wherever they liked.
Mr. Sam Ath said today’s workshop at the National Assembly LANGO was merely a facade to give the appearance that the government is listening to all opinions.
“The workshop is just to complete the process,” he said.
Police block protesters at the National Assembly from marching to the Cambodiana Hotel to join an NGO meeting there yesterday. KT Photo: Ros Chanveasna
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