Street scene in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Photo: World Bank
Street scene in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Photo: World Bank

United Nations human rights expert Maina Kiai today urged Cambodia to reject a draft law that would allow authorities to shut down and criminalize any group advocating for human rights, basic freedoms and good governance, saying “it is not too late to reverse the course of action.” The draft Law on ‘Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations’ (NGOs) is scheduled to be examined by the Senate following its approval on Monday by the Cambodian National Assembly, according to a press release issued by Mr. Kiai, who is the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. “Should the draft law be adopted, any group advocating for human rights, basic freedoms and good governance can be shut down and criminalized,” he said. “It will ultimately have a disastrous impact on Cambodian citizens’ democratic participation in furthering the development of their country.” “I urge the Senate to reject entirely the Bill as it falls significantly short of international human rights norms governing freedom of association, in particular Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Cambodia acceded in 1992,” Mr. Kiai said.

Mr. Kiai’s present appeal has been endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom or opinion and expression, David Kaye. According to the press release, under the draft law, authorities will be able to de-register local and international associations and NGOs if they consider them as not “politically neutral” and similarly deny registration on the vague grounds that the purpose and goal of the associations or NGOs “endanger the security, stability and public order or jeopardise national security, national unity, culture, traditions, and customs of Cambodian national society.”