(SEAPA/IFEX) - 7 January 2011 - The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and FORUM-ASIA, and the undersigned organizations, are deeply troubled by a Cambodia government plan to pass a restrictive law to regulate the activities of local and foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working inside the country.
We believe the draft law, if approved in its present form, will have a far-reaching negative impact on civil liberties and freedom of expression in the country as it contains many vague and unduly burdensome provisions that obstruct rather than promote the growth and the work of these non-profit organizations.
We therefore support a concerted call made by local and foreign development and advocacy organizations inside Cambodia for the government to extend the review process and thoroughly consult with the groups before forwarding the bill to the National Assembly.
Critics say the bill, to be known as the "Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations", gives excessive power to the government to regulate, monitor and intervene in the activities of the local and foreign development and advocacy agencies. In late December 2010, the government circulated to the existing organizations the draft for feedback and set 10 January 2011 as the date for a consultative meeting with them on the draft law.
The draft law imposes stringent requirements and conditions in every step of the process to establish a non-governmental organization, from registration to implementation of its activities to its financial reports. A group of NGOs in Cambodia have pointed out that these provisions would only serve to hinder the establishment of new organizations and slow down the activities of existing NGOs.
The year 2010 was already marked by a deepening crisis in Cambodia caused in part by the decline in the level of freedom of expression and civil liberties. Local and international rights groups were caught off guard in December 2010 when the government passed the amendment to the 1996 Penal Code, which introduced new provisions that further threaten free expression in the country. And now comes the draft law on NGOs.
This legislative bill goes against the tide of the regional democratization process and a deepening engagement with civil societies. It certainly goes against the vision of a caring and open regional community fostered by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) of which Cambodia is a member country.
Finally, we believe the Cambodian government needs to sustain the support of these non-governmental organizations, both local and international, which so far have been an indispensible social force to strengthen the country's fragile civil society and democracy.
SEAPA is the only regional organization with the specific mandate of promoting and protecting press freedom in Southeast Asia. It is composed of the Jakarta-based Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and the Institute for Studies on the Free Flow of Information (ISAI); the Manila-based Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ); the Bangkok-based Thai Journalists Association (TJA); and the network's Kuala Lumpur-based associate member, the Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ).
The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is a regional human rights organization based in Bangkok with 47 member organizations across Asia. It is also a non-governmental organization in Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 2004.
Centre for Independent Journalism - Malaysia
Globe International Center
Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)
Asian Indigenous Women's Network
Asia-Pacific Solidarity Coalition
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists (CAPJ)
Cambodian Housing Rights Task Force, Cambodia
Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), Cambodia
Center for Human Rights and Development (CHRD), Mongolia
Center for Migrant Advocacy, Philippines
Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB), Burma/Thailand
Human Rights Working Group (HRWG), Indonesia
INFORM Documentation Center, Sri Lanka
National Commission for Justice and Peace, Pakistan
Nonviolence International Southeast Asia
People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, India
Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), Philippines
Southeast Asian Media Legal Defense Network (SEAMLDN)
Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples' Center for Policy Research and Education)
Think Center, Singapore