Saturday, 4 October 2008

Law to Control Non-Government Organizations Triggers War of Words

Posted on 4 October 2008
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 580

“During a speech on Friday, 26 September 2008, about general policies, Samdech Hun Sen announced that a law to control civil society organizations will be adopted during this term. Samdech Hun Sen explained that Cambodia is a rule-of-law country, so it is necessary for us to know ‘the origin, resources, and the activities of those organizations.’ He raised a surprising reason, ‘Terrorists might come to the Royal Government of Cambodia and hide themselves under the banners of non-government organizations.’ Obviously, a Muslim organization, called Om Al-Qura, was involved with the Al-Qaeda networks.

Om Al-Qura is one of Kuwait’s leading educational services – and Cambodia is in the process of setting up closer relations with Kuwait, since the visit of the Kuwaiti Prime Minister.

There are also a series of educational institutions under the name of Om Al-Qura in Saudi Arabia, under the Ministry of Eduction of Saudi Arabia.

When, in 2004, the Al Qaeda operative Riduan Isamuddin, alias Hambali, and others, spent some time in Cambodia – probably to organize an Al Qaeda cell, this was, of course, not organized or registered as a non-government or civil society organization.

“The head of the government raised another reason: non-government organizations always talk about transparency and accountability related to income and expenses of the government, but the government has never cared about income sources of those organizations; they want to know all activities of the government, but when we want to know their activities, they oppose it; doing so is not fair. This is the complaint by Samdech Hun Sen. According to his speech, so far, local non-government organizations or associations just register at the Ministry of Interior or at the Council of Ministers, and everything is done. As for international non-government organizations, they just register at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Samdech Hun Sen added that after the registration, some organizations and associations act differently from providing humanitarian assistance. Therefore, there must be one strict law to control civil society organizations.

“However, this kind of law is not what civil society organizations would like to have. The director of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association - ADHOC - Mr. Thun Saray, said that since more than 10 years, non-government organizations do their activities in Cambodia. They are thoroughly monitored by donors through audits by independent companies working according to international standards. Mr. Thun Saray said that civil society organizations never cause trouble, but they help the society and the poor. Are civil society organizations afraid of such a law law? No. This was the response that Mr. Thun Saray gave immediately. He clarified that if that law aims to facilitate our work, there is no problem, but if that law aims at limiting the activities of civil society organizations, there are two points to be worried about. The first relates to the finance of non-government organizations if they were administered by the government. This point might be a major obstacle for the activities of civil society, if the government would try to create any trouble. The second point relates to the prohibition for civil society to be involved in politics - but it is not clearly stated what political activities are. Mr. Thun Saray worries that this point might be used to stop the activities of any organization. He raised as an example that an organization, which does activities to strengthen democracy or human rights, might be accused to be involved in politics. The director of the Center for Social Development, Ms. Seng Theary, said that in the present situation, Cambodia does not need such a law, while many other important laws do not yet exist. However, Mr. Sok Sam Oeun, the director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, did not want to make any comment, because he had not yet seen a draft of that law. He said that if this law is formed to ease the work of civil society, it would be better, but he knows that in some dictatorial countries, such laws just aim at limiting the activities of civil society organizations. Nevertheless, he hopes that this law must not go against democracy, since Cambodia follows democracy.

“But during the speech of nearly five hours, Samdech Hun Sen announced, ‘Civil society always want us to follow the law, but as for them, they do not want the law to control themselves. This is unfair.’ This is the response of the Prime Minister to the criticism by non-government organizations. The head of the government said, ‘Non-government organizations have to curse the government, so that they can receive aid. I had told the former UN Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, that I do no longer hope to be able to read positive reports about Cambodia, as long as those reports are organized by human rights expert agencies, or by local human rights organizations.’”

Cambodge Soir, Vol.1, #52, 3-8.10.2008
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Friday, 3 October 2008

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