Restrictions on Cambodian civil society
What is the future of civil society space in Cambodia?
Bond members and their Cambodian partner civil society organisations are lobbying to ensure a new Cambodian law governing NGOs and associations does not serve to restrict the voice and space of civil society.
In a broader context of a global trend towards closing down civil society space, there are growing concerns that the new Cambodian law will increase restrictions on civil society. The government is defending its position and is dismissing claims that the new law is an attempt to increase control over civil society.
Bond members recognise the Cambodian government’s prerogative to regulate non-governmental associations and the regulatory benefits to organisations from registering as legal entities. Nevertheless, national and international NGOs have questioned the need for the law given that the Civil Code already contains provisions to regulate civil society in Cambodia. Furthermore, the new law could be problematic for two groups: firstly, unregistered community based organisations, associations and other informal gatherings who may not be able, or willing to register; secondly, international organisations who work in partnership with Cambodian civil society groups but who do not have a formal Memorandum of Understanding with the government.
Of critical importance at this stage while the law is being developed, is the need for comprehensive and meaningful civil society consultation on the draft versions of the law to ensure that this regulation does not hinder the positive contribution of CSOs to the Cambodia people - be that at grassroots level, national level or through collaboration with international NGOs. Furthermore, in dialogue with the government and in a public statement, national CSOs have suggested establishing a Technical Working Group as a platform for ongoing CSO-government cooperation for decision-making about the law and its implementation.
The third draft of the law on associations and NGOs was released on 29 July and, from a civil society perspective, has not changed much from the previous versions. The draft law still enforces mandatory registration of associations and NGOs, including burdensome registration requirements, which would potentially reduce the voice of many organisations that represent the marginalised in Cambodia. The NGO law still fails to respect fundamental rights, including freedom of association and expression.
If you would like further information and analysis of the third draft of the NGO Law, please check the following links:
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) analysis.
Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) report.
Cooperation Committee for Cambodia website.
Guardian Poverty Matters article: 'Third draft of Cambodia's associations and NGO law overlooks key concerns'.