The Interior Ministry yesterday asked representatives of local and foreign NGOs to establish a working group to find a common ground for inputs to be included in the draft amendment to the Law on Associations and Non-governmental Organisations.
Speaking to reporters after the second meeting to review draft Lango amendments yesterday, Bun Honn, a secretary of state at the ministry, said he suggested two dozen leaders representing 450 NGOs in the meeting to work together and address their shared concerns.
“We want them to unite among themselves and come up with joint proposals. I think they should form a working group and conduct a meeting to agree with what they are going to propose during meetings with our ministry officials,” he said. “We today discussed two articles and representatives of NGOs seem to have different opinions about their requests. It becomes an obstacle to the discussion.”
Mr Honn also called on representatives of other NGOs to offer their inputs. He noted about 6,000 NGOs are operating across the country, but less than ten percent of them has participated in the discussions.
“One of our concerns is that only a small number among all NGOs joined the meeting and offered their inputs for the draft Lango amendments. What if we finish amending and other groups come out and oppose it? We want all of them to work together,” he said.
Lango was passed in 2015 and since then NGOs have criticised it for requiring civil society groups to register with the Interior Ministry to be lawful and report their activities and finances or face fines, criminal prosecution and closure.
NGOs representatives yesterday presented 15 articles for discussion.
Those articles included registration, facilitation of fieldwork and the removal of restrictions on human rights work.
Soeng Sen Karuna, spokesman for rights group Adhoc, yesterday said the proposal was initially raised and drafted by a dozen NGOs, which have encountered challenges in their day-to-day activities.
“We, NGOs representatives, have worked together and drafted the proposal to the ministry but another group of NGOs has just shown up at the meeting and came up with different ideas,” he said. “I think that was why the ministry assumed that we were not on the same page.”
Mr Sen Karuna urged the ministry to address concerns related to law enforcement and give more space for the NGOs to do their work, especially related to politics, and human rights.
Sok Sam Oeun, board director of election monitoring Comfrel and legal advisor to Transparency International, said the ministry should collect all inputs from all NGOs representatives and work on it to seek the best solution.
Mr Sam Oeun said that formation of a working group among the nearly 6,000 NGOs would be time-consuming.
“Because NGOs work in different fields, some might have less legal knowledge. It’s good to come up with a joint proposal and agreement but it will take time. Will the ministry accept it? This is the question. So, I think the ministry should minimize our requests,” he said.