In Global Trend to ‘Restrict’ Civil Society: Cambodia Moves Closer to Enacting NGO Law

A local NGO distributes uniforms at a school in Cambodia. Cambodia is moving closer to passing a law that is feared to make it more difficult for foreign aid organizations to operate in the country. Photo by: Cambodia4Kids / CC BY

Cambodia is moving closer to passing a law that is feared to make it more difficult for foreign aid organizations to operate in the Asian country.

International and local civil society groups see this move as giving the government discretionary powers and control over them. It is also seen as part of a growing global trend of governments enacting or considering to implement measures that restrict their citizens’ freedom of speech and of association in general, and activities of aid groups in particular.

Cambodia released on July 29 the third draft of the proposed Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations. While showing some improvement, this version retained what the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law termed as “several problematic issues” of earlier drafts. This is despite a public consultation organized by the Cambodian government and the suggested revisions submitted by local NGOs.

Among the problematic issues are:

  • A complicated registration process that “lacks procedural safeguards,” which would make it difficult for foreign organizations to operate in the country for more than six months.

  • No appeal process for foreign NGOs that would be denied the right to operate in the country.

  • Restrictive requirements for civil society groups: requiring all NGOs and associations to register with government, limiting founding members to Cambodian nationals, and requiring them to submit notifications and reports to the government.

  • Unclear grounds for suspending or terminating an NGO’s operations.

Since the draft proposal was first circulated in December 2010, international and local NGOs have been urging the Cambodian government to withdraw the measure. In April, the U.S. government threatened to halt its aid if the Cambodian government will adopt the measure.

Countries that have moved to amend or enact laws governing NGOs include Venezuela, Ecuador, Iran and Bahrain. Citing a human rights report by the U.S. State Department, Oxfam America said that nearly 90 countries have sought to impose new restrictions on NGOs over the past several years.

At 9 a.m. EST on Aug. 12, Oxfam America will host a press briefing with Borithy Lun of the Cooperation Committee of Cambodia, which has been at the forefront of civil society’s opposition to the proposed law. Lun will share the aid community’s recommendations on improving Cambodia’s draft NGO law. Joining Lun will be Gregory Adams of Oxfam America and Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn of Freedom House.

Journalists who want to call-in may do so via conference line no. +1 202 471 3072.

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About the author

  • Che

    Che de los Reyes

    As a senior staff writer, Che focuses on international development breaking news coverage as well as interviews and features. Prior to joining Devex, Che handled communications for local and international development NGOs and government institutions in the Philippines.