Battle Over NGO Law Ends
PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – The Constitutional Council yesterday said that the Law on Association and NGOs does not violate the Constitution, following a meeting with three members of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) who had said earlier that it did.
The controversial law – passed by the National Assembly on July 13 and reviewed by the Senate on July 24 – is in “accordance with the Constitution,” the Council said in a statement released late yesterday afternoon.
“This decision is final and without recourse and has authority over all instituted powers stipulated in the Constitution,” the statement said.
The decision was made after the council’s members met with three CNRP lawmakers as well as representatives of the government.
“We spent about two hours discussing our concerns with the council, especially several points related to violations of human rights, the Constitution and UN conventions,” said Son Chhay, one of the three CNRP members who attended the discussions.
“It was a meeting that followed our complaint,” Mr. Chhay said, referring to a 12-page letter sent to the council late on July 30 by 13 members of the party.
That letter urged the Council to send the legislation – which critics say is intended to muzzle civil society in the run up to the 2018 national election – back to the National Assembly to be amended.
Mr. Chhay told Khmer Times that the Council was paying close attention to the legislation. “During [yesterday’s] discussion, we saw most members of the council were very interested in the LANGO,” he said. “Council President Ek Sam Ol confirmed that he was closely considering our concerns and that he and the other members of the council will carefully examine the law to decide what to do next,” Mr. Chhay explained.
Previously, Mr. Chhay had described the Council as a tool of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
He said yesterday afternoon – hours before the Council announced his decision – that he did not know when the Council would make its decision, but guessed it would likely be early next week. “Now, let’s give the Council some time to examine the law,” he said.
Late last month, 26 NGOs sent a petition to the King asking him not to sign the LANGO.
“We, the undersigned civil society organizations, are writing to urge your Majesty not to sign the proposed LANGO, and to call for your urgent intervention as the official guarantor of the constitutional rights and freedoms of all Cambodians, and of the international human rights treaties to which Cambodia is a party,” the petition said.
Cambodia’s two largest rights groups, Licadho and Adhoc, also called on the Constitutional Council to reject the law, after it was sent to the Council for review.
“Adhoc and Licadho call on the Council to reject the law on the basis of numerous provisions that violate Cambodian citizens’ constitutional rights and freedoms,” they wrote in a joint statement at the end of last month.
Critics of the law have said it violates constitutionally guaranteed rights to assembly and freedom and contains vague language that can be used to muzzle critics of the government. “Vague and unconstitutional definitions of NGOs and associations could have an impact on the rights of all community-based organizations,” Naly Pilorge, director of rights group Licadho, wrote in the statement urging the Council to reject LANGO. “Grassroots and citizens’ groups will find themselves shackled and silenced by this law, which defies fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Cambodian Constitution,” Ms. Pilorge said.
Out of Line?
CPP spokesman Sok Ey San told Khmer Times the NGOs were attempting to usurp royal powers. “We cannot force the King to do what we want,” he said. “So, those NGOs should be careful about what they say [in regard to the Monarchy],” he added.
He also said some NGOs were politically motivated. They are always protesting against the government rather than doing humanitarian work, Mr. Ey San said.
“Some 5,300 NGOs in the country, but only 30 NGOs have been protesting the LANGO. What does this mean? Why are the other more than 5,000 NGOs not protesting?” he asked.
The number of associations and NGOs in Cambodia is contested. Although many are registered, the number of active associations and NGOs is said to be far lower than the number used by the government, staff from advocacy NGOs say.
Speaking to Khmer Times before the Constitutional Council made its announcement, Mr. Ey San said, “If the council finds that the law does not violate the Constitution, the law must move forward.”
On Monday, CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said the two parties had reached an agreement on how to handle the law. “Both parties agreed that when the LANGO is enforced, if there are negative impacts on rights and other challenges, the two major parties will agree to address those impacts to amend the law,” he said. On Tuesday his colleague Mr. Chhay told Khmer Times, “We will follow whatever the Constitutional Council decides.”
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