The Interior Ministry yesterday told visiting UN rights envoy Rhona Smith that it is open to receiving a request to amend the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations, according to its spokesman.
The law has been criticised by a number of civil society organisations as being too restrictive, especially in dealing with the right to assemble in public.
A meeting was held between Ms Smith, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia, and Interior Minister Sar Kheng yesterday.
Interior Ministry spokesman Phat Sophanith said after the meeting that Mr Kheng stressed the importance of collaboration between the government and civil society, and that a thorough study is crucial before amending the law.
“The government is always open to good ideas from civil society regarding the amendment of the law,” Mr Sophanith said. “However, Mr Kheng noted that the amendment requires a study.”
“At this point, Mr Kheng has appealed for faith in the cooperation between the government and civil society groups in order to prevent misunderstandings,” he added.
Mr Sophanith said Mr Kheng during the meeting also highlighted efforts made by the government to address concerns raised by members of civil society during bi-annual meetings.
However, despite efforts highlighted by government officials, Soeung Saroeun, executive director of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, said the law still restricts civil society activities.
“The government and the Interior Ministry have recognised some issues in implementing the law and agreed to review and amend it,” Mr Saroeun said. “I will see how it works.”
The law was unanimously passed in 2015 by CPP lawmakers amid a parliamentary boycott by the former opposition CNRP.
Ms Smith told reporters after the meeting that she was briefed by ministry officials on the relationship between the government and civil society.
“We also discussed issues with freedom of assembly and the powers used by the police and by the local authorities across Cambodia,” Ms Smith said, adding that she also discussed the campaign against drugs and prison overcrowding.
“We also discussed the progress in rolling out the one stop service window, which helped to bring many public services in governance to the people in a way that is more transparent and should hopefully prevent and limit corruption and bribery,” she added.
When asked about Ms Smith’s statement, Mr Sophanith said Mr Kheng said there are 100 one-stop window service centres currently operating in the Kingdom, and that the government is aiming to open more in rural areas.
“The government understands clearly about the efficiency of the one window service and is trying to make sure that it benefits all citizens with transparency,” he said.
Mr Sophanith noted that Mr Kheng told Ms Smith that the issue of prison overcrowding can be attributed to the government’s anti-drug campaign. He said the government recently established a working group to address the problem.