Cambodia: Withdraw LANGO and ensure genuine civil society participation


ISHR joined a global civil society calls for the immediate withdrawal of Cambodia's draft Law on Associations and NGOs, which is likely to be scheduled for a vote at the National Assembly on 10 July.

(Update - 15 July 2015) - A group of UN human rights called on the Cambodian Senate to correct the decision by the National Assembly to adopt the draft Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (LANGO). On 13 July, and despite concern expressed by a wide range of international NGOs, States and international organisations, the Cambodian National Assembly adopted the bill unanimously. 

The UN expert on freedom of assembly and association, Maina Kiai, said the law “unequivocally threatens the very existence of a free and independent civil society in Cambodia,” and therefore the Senate should reject it. He was joined in his statement by the UN experts on freedom of expression and on human rights defenders. 

The experts expressed concern about "the fact that there was no meaningful and transparent consultation with civil society throughout the drafting process. The half-day ‘National Workshop on Understanding the Draft LANGO’, convened by the National Assembly on 8 July 2015, did not allow for meaningful substantive exchanges on the detailed content of the draft”, Mr Kiai underscored. 

(Geneva) - The draft Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (LANGO) before Cambodia’s National Assembly serves only to unnecessarily restrict the work of civil society in the country, said the International Service for Human Rights. ISHR joined a global civil society calls for the immediate withdrawal of the draft law, which is likely to be scheduled for a vote at the National Assembly on 10 July.

In a joint letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen, regional and international human rights organisations including ISHR, FORUM-ASIA, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and ICJ, expressed concern that, if adopted, this legislation, would give the Ministry of Interior Affairs and Ministry of Foreign Affairs arbitrary powers to shut down many domestic and international associations and NGOs, as well as community-based advocacy movements.

‘The restrictions on the right to association contained in LANGO go beyond the permissible limitations allowed by international human rights law and are unnecessary for any legitimate purpose. Legislation already in force in Cambodia is fully sufficient to appropriately regulate the activities of NGOs and other associations and to allow prosecution where criminal acts have been committed’ expressed the group, in the letter. ‘A law affecting fundamental rights should not be given so cursory consideration’ they stated.

The group of NGOs further highlighted that the government had failed to engage in meaningful consultation with civil society and independent experts, ignoring their repeated concerns reiterated at various stages of the drafting process.

In a press release on 22 May, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Mr Maina Kiai, stressed that ‘since the Government of Cambodia intends to regulate the framework governing associations, the beneficiaries of the law should be key partners of the drafting process’. The Special Rapporteur had previously written to the government of Cambodia about problematic provisions in a 2011 version of the draft law on associations, including vague or ambiguous definitions, bureaucratic registration processes, unrealistic membership requirements and additional burdensome requirements on foreign NGOs.

‘It is regrettable that peaceful civil society protests against the draft LANGO on 28-30 June were obstructed by authorities. This move to suppress opposition against this law is indicative of the intentions the government has in regulating the work of associations and NGOs in the country’ said Ms Pooja Patel from ISHR.

The former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, Mr Surya Subedi, expressed in his outgoing statement in April that Cambodia needed to address its ‘democratic deficit’ in order to make reforms meaningful. Drawing attention to the worrying trend of passing laws without meaningful public participation, he stated that ‘this sends an unhelpful message… that the old ways of managing the country have not changed’. The Special Rapporteur advised the government of Cambodia ‘to open the critical process of law-making, and win over the critics – not by pushing them aside, but with the strength of your arguments and a demonstrated willingness to take the best route to solutions, no matter who they are proposed by’.

Cambodia was also reviewed earlier this year for its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which they are a party. The committee of independent UN experts expressed their concern over the draft LANGO, particularly as they received reports of harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders, journalists, trade union workers, land and environmental activists and other civil society actors, as well as members of the political opposition. They called on the government of Cambodia to review the draft law to bring it in line with the convention. 

For further information, please contact Pooja Patel


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