The Ministry of Interior hosted its second meeting with civil societies on Tuesday to discuss proposed amendments to the Law on Association and Non-Governmental Organisations (Lango).
The four-hour session was held at the ministry to address the 15 proposed amendments to the Lango amid ongoing concerns that it could impede the work of civil society.
During the meeting, some representatives were said to have pressed the ministry to remove paragraph four of Article 8, which directs the ministry not to register local organisations or NGOs found to “jeopardise peace, stability and public order or harm the national security, national unity, culture, and traditions of the Cambodian national society”.
They claimed that the paragraph would hinder their ability to operate freely and cause them difficulty in conducting aid missions.
The ministry’s secretary of state Bun Hun said after the meeting that only two Articles were discussed and that civil society representatives and the government were at odds regarding the interpretation of Article 8.
“We reviewed Article 8 and Article 9 of [the Lango], the first issue addressed concerned awareness of the content of the law and there were conflicting interpretations of the second issue [Article 8] with organisations that have reviewed and proposed the amendment,” he said.
People Centre for Development and Peace president Yong Kim Eng told The Post: “If these Articles are included, they [the ministry] will interpret these articles at will, we have already seen different interpretations of laws in the past.
“If we [Cambodia] are committed to respecting basic human rights as stipulated in our Constitution, I think these Articles should be left out [of the Lango],” Kim Eng said, adding that civil societies were equally concerned regarding the Kingdom’s peace and stability.
In response, Hun said: “The term ‘public order’ includes security, calmness, cleanliness and conservation. We said [at the meeting] that if these Articles were removed, it would render the ministry unable to deny registration of groups that aim to threaten public order.”
Adhoc spokesperson Soeng Senkarana said: “We want the amendments to the law to respect the rights and freedoms of civil society and the Ministry of Interior not to change the Articles we proposed . . . we think it restricts our freedom.”
The Cooperation Committee for Cambodia’s Coalition Building, Advocacy and Networking chief Yoeung Sotheara told The Post that the meeting was “active” and that representatives from civil societies used the opportunity not only to raise their concerns but also express reasons for them.
Hun said it was up to civil societies to ensure that the Lango amendments are implemented promptly given they can prove the legality of their amendments on an international and national basis.
“Civil societies and the government are partners in further developing Cambodian society and the government is not vested in causing trouble for them as accused,” he said, adding that 10 years of research was conducted before the Lango was approved.