A woman protests the controversial NGO law near security forces outside the Senate in Phnom Penh on Friday.
The law passed unanimously amid a boycott by opposition senators. Heng Chivoan
Chhay Channyda, The Phnom Penh Post
Fri, 24 July 2015
Cambodia's Senate today gave its expected approval to the controversial law on associations and non-governmental organisations (LANGO), amid street protests and a boycott from opposition representatives.
All 44 Cambodia People’s Party senators present voted unanimously to endorse the draft legislation, which will next week head to the Constitutional Council before being presented to King Norodom Sihamoni for a final approval.
Hundreds of NGOs, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States have criticised the law, saying it will be wielded to restrict civil society in the Kingdom.
As with the National Assembly vote last week, the opposition boycotted the vote in protest, leaving eight CPP senators to defend and praise the legislation during a perfunctory debate.
“We have heard many rumors that this law bans freedom of NGOs, that it is a negative law to implement, a law they don’t need,” said CPP Senator Chum Vong in dismissing the criticism.
”They are just a small group of NGOs. They are not representing the whole NGOs in Cambodia.
“It’s their opinion, but I still support this law to be approved to guarantee the freedom of running NGOs in Cambodia…NGOs are partners with the government.
“Those who criticize the law don’t want to be neutral. They want to do whatever they want.”
Opponents say LANGO’S rigid registration and reporting regime and its stipulation that organisations must be politically neutral will be used to discriminate against groups critical of the ruling party.
The government, however, has argued the legislation is necessary to stop rogue operators and ensure organisations aren’t financed by terrorists.
“The law helps donors to have a clear report of their funding to NGOs,” Senator Ouk Kong argued, saying the legislation will ensure cash is spent “in the right way”.
“Some NGOs received fund support from donors and without acknowledgment from the government…now NGOs have to make a report about receiving funds from donors to the Finance Ministry and Ministry of Interior.
“This makes the donors trust NGOs more about their spending.”
Another senator, Ung Ty, said the law compared favourably to similar legislation in other countries, noting that existing NGOs weren’t required to re-register.
Pol Lim, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, who was at Senate this morning to defend the law, welcomed the Senate’s endorsement.
“Anyone talking about dropping the law is in conflict with what all NGOs want,” Lim said.
Outside the Senate, hundreds of protesters disagreed with that sentiment, voicing their concern over the bill.
Confronted by about 100 security guards, the group was pushed across the road to the Japanese Embassy, where they also submitted a petition calling for intervention to stop the law.