Interior Minister Sar Kheng yesterday dismissed a request made by some civil society groups and claimed the government will not repeal the Law on Association and Non-Governmental Organisations.
On February 10, 100 local communities and NGOs issued a joint statement saying that concerned parties failed to produce amendments to LANGO and urged the government to immediately revoke it.
The groups at that time pointed out the government ‘lacks the will’ to amend the law, and said the present law affects not just NGOs but also grassroots groups and associations. They also said the law is unnecessary and serves only to restrict the free assembly, organisation and expression of the diverse members of Cambodia’s civil society.
Speaking at the ministry’s annual conference yesterday, Mr Kheng said he was responsible for initiating LANGO in 1994. The law was eventually adopted in 2015.
“I spent nearly 20 years getting the law approved. How could they demand a repeal after just four meetings in less than a year?” he asked. “The amendments could not be agreed upon because of diverse opinions among the civil society groups.”
Mr Kheng said the government has never discriminated against civil society groups and their operating activities and has always considered them as development partners.
“Many people suggested that Cambodia is a haven for civil society groups to conduct their activities. There is no country like Cambodia,” he said. “We have learned from other countries before we drafted and adopted this law. This was not an easy task.”
Mr Kheng noted that the government’s working group will continue to coordinate the discussion among the civil society groups in order to amend the remaining eight articles.
“There were nine articles among the requested 17 articles which all parties had agreed upon in just four meetings. Why not continue the discussion if you are all committed to respect the rule of law?” he questioned.
Bun Honn, a secretary of state at the ministry, who leads the working group, said yesterday he will invite related civil society groups to attend the fifth meeting in order to address the remaining problems.
“I will invite them to the next discussion. We will not cancel the meeting or repeal the law. I will set the date for the meeting soon,” he said.
Soeng Sen Karuna, spokesman for the rights group Adhoc, said yesterday Mr Kheng should differentiate between the purpose and roles of the civil society groups to better understand the diversity of their opinions.
“Some groups did not care about the law but some made a lot of effort to ensure the law is well implemented and it guarantees freedom for civil society groups that work on human rights and democracy,” he said.
Mr Sen Karuna said Adhoc was among another 500 NGOs and associations who requested the government amend and annul some articles of the law.
According to the ministry report, about 5,716 associations and NGOs have registered for recognition at the Interior Ministry to operate across the Kingdom.