A Cambodian draft law making registration of associations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) mandatory and banning unregistered groups, risks breaching an international treaty, a United Nations rights expert warned today, calling on the Government to review it.
“The current draft NGO law contains a set of problematic provisions, raising concerns over a potential negative impact on Cambodian citizens’ democratic participation in furthering the development of their country,” UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai said in a news release, noting that it could violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The mandatory nature of the draft law “constitutes a clear infringement of the right to freedom of association. Having a recognized legal status may confer rights and benefits to organizations such as the ability to open bank accounts, but legal status is not necessary for the enjoyment of the right to freedom of association,” he added.
He welcomed a recent statement by Cambodia’s ambassador to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council promising “further consultations” and called on the authorities to review the draft law in open and meaningful discussions with associations and NGOs.
By excluding refugees, stateless persons and other non-Cambodian residents from forming associations or domestic NGOs and limiting eligible founding members to Cambodian nationals, the draft further violates freedom of association, which should be enjoyed by all individuals within Cambodia’s territory, he noted.
Other concerns include the high minimum membership requirement; lack of clarity of the criteria for registration, suspension or termination; and the overly cumbersome and bureaucratic registration process for foreign NGOs, which could limit the scope of their activities and hamper their independence.
“A legal framework to ensure freedom of association should facilitate, rather than control, individuals’ enjoyment of this right formally or informally,” Mr. Kiai said. “It should also emerge from an open, transparent process that engenders goodwill and confidence.”
Two other UN experts raised concerns over the effects of the draft law on human rights defenders. The Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, stressed that the draft could affect the defenders’ ability to exercise such rights.
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya said the free and full exercise of the right to freedom of association places a duty on States to create a favourable environment for defenders to act freely.
“We urge the Cambodian authorities to fully take on board the legitimate concerns repeatedly raised by NGOs and associations during the announced further consultations,” the two said, noting that the Government has reviewed and revised the draft law numerous times.
Last month, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi, urged the Government to review the draft and not proceed with it in its present form.