Re: New Draft Law on Associations and NGOs

Re: New Draft Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations

To: H.E. Samdech Hun Sen

From: Gail Davidson, Executive Director, LRWC

Date: 2011-05-31

I am writing on behalf of Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC), a committee of Canadian lawyers who promote human rights and the rule of law internationally. LRWC also provides support to lawyers and other human rights defenders in danger because of their advocacy.

LRWC wishes to follow up its letter of April 8 concerning the second draft of the NGO law. LRWC is very pleased that your government has withdrawn this draft legislation. We understand that a third draft of the NGO Law is now being prepared, and that Ministry of Interior officials have stated that NGO concerns have been addressed. LRWC looks forward to the release of the third draft so that all those potentially affected by the law may examine the draft and have opportunities to comment on it in accordance with international standards of public consultation. Inclusive and participatory drafting processes are known to be effective in developing broad-based consensus resulting in final legislation that is widely accepted by all concerned, and which can successfully address the legitimate aims of enabling and ensuring that the non-profit sector serves the public interest.

One of LRWC’s fundamental concerns is that the third draft ensure the right of both development and human rights groups and all other civil society groups the right to freedom of association as guaranteed by Article 31 of Cambodia’s Constitution and Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Cambodia is a Party. Article 22(2) of the ICCPR provides that there may be no restrictions on the exercise of this right other than those “which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” In this regard, your government has an international duty to ensure that every person and every organ of society, including NGOs, is afforded the right and responsibility to promote and observe human rights according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international law binding on Cambodia.

The second draft of the NGO law provided many opportunities for official harassment of NGOs. LRWC has long been concerned with a persistent climate of impunity for serious violations of human rights in Cambodia, including allegations of official complicity in harassment, intimidation of human rights defenders, particularly those who raise concerns about land-grabbing. Therefore, LRWC is greatly relieved about your government’s decision to withdraw the draft.

LRWC is also pleased about reported statements by officials of the Ministry of Interior that the new draft law will address NGO concerns. LRWC hopes the new draft will address the concerns outlined in its letter of 8 April 2011 (attached for your reference). LRWC also urges your government to work transparently in cooperation with all stakeholders in all relevant sectors to develop a sound NGO law that provides for appropriate regulation and accountability of the non-profit sector within the framework of international human rights and international standards for NGO legislation. In the light of the widespread concern about the second draft of the NGO law by international organizations, donors, and local and foreign NGOs, LRWC hopes your government will shortly make a clear public statement of commitment to release the third draft of the NGO law in a timely way and to ensure ample time for public discussion, comment and revision.

LRWC looks forward to your early response.