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Cablegate: Cambodia's Draft Ngo Law

DE RUEHPF #0981/01 3460940
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1. (SBU) Summary: Prime Minister Hun Sen recently told the
Council of Ministers in a public address that drafting an NGO
law is a priority for the RGC. He indicated that the law may
be used as a tool to fight terrorism, and to ensure that NGOs
and their workers are paying appropriate taxes. Hun Sen
added during his speech that, "NGOs have to insult the
government in order to obtain funding." The government's
plan to draft the law has some NGOs worried that the PM's
intention may be to silence NGO human rights critics. While
some NGOs argue that no NGO law is the best NGO law (in
Cambodia), the law drafting process appears to be a
fast-moving train. The RGC is reportedly requesting
assistance in the law drafting process. End Summary.

NGO Law to be Drafted in 2009

2. (SBU) During a recent meeting Ministry of Interior (MOI)
Undersecretary of State Sieng Lapresse told Pol/Econ Chief
that the Cambodian government is determined to have an NGO
law, and that he believes the law will be in its final draft
stages by mid-2009. (Note: Sieng Lapresse has been tasked
with drafting the law together with the MOI Legislative Unit.
End Note.) Passing an NGO law during this mandate of the
National Assembly was announced as a priority by Prime
Minister Hun Sen during a September public address. This is
the RGC's third attempt to draft an NGO law since the 1990s;
during previous tries, NGOs and the international community
discouraged consideration of an NGO law widely seen as a move
to control NGOs instead of support them. Also, there is
currently a procedure for NGOs to register in Cambodia; NGOs
submit a registration form to the MOI and, if the MOI
approves, it responds with an approval letter.

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Draft Law Shared With Embassy

3. (SBU) Sieng Lapresse shared a copy of the draft law (it
is the same as a 2005 draft with a few minor changes) which
states that NGOs shall not conduct activities for political
parties; provides a process for NGOs to register with the
Ministry of Interior; requires NGOs to have written rules for
recruitment of staff, structure and roles of a governing
body, and quorum for meetings of a governing body; and,
requires NGOs to report to the MOI their activities, and
income and expenses. While some NGOs stated that they feel
threatened by the vagueness of the requirements in the draft,
Sieng Lapresse acknowledged that the law does not specify the
level of detail for reporting requirements. Vaguely citing
concerns about terrorist activities, Sieng Lapresse said that
the RGC wants to know NGOs' activities and the objective of
their activities. He said that an MOI officer will have
responsibility for monitoring activities through the reports.
He added that NGOs would be expected to describe activities
in as much detail as possible but that if they describe all
details, monitoring could "get out of hand." He said that if
NGO activities go beyond humanitarian or assistance programs,
the MOI would "look into it."

MOI Believes NGOs "Happy" About Law

4. (SBU) Despite chatter of concerns regarding the law among
the NGO community, Sieng Lapresse stated that to him NGOs
seemed happy with the idea of the law. He recently led an EU
seminar session that involved a number of NGOs, including
ADHOC, and said he received few questions about the law and
left with the feeling that people seemed happy. He told
Pol/Econ Chief that he had previously heard concerns that the
law would force NGO funding to be channeled through a
government ministry before being awarded to NGOs, and that
NGOs would be prohibited from conducting activities for any
political interests (including possibly democracy-building
political programs). However, Sieng Lapresse explained that
the law would not stipulate such measures. He noted the
draft proposed that NGOs could not be associated with
political parties.

Comment Period Planned

5. (SBU) Sieng Lapresse said that the MOI plans to have a
workshop on the law to solicit comments, and then possibly a
second comments period before the draft is finalized. Sieng
Lapresse said we could expect to hear about the scheduling of

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the first comment period during the first quarter of 2009.
(Note: These plans apparently have not been communicated to
the NGO community. End Note.)

Request for Assistance

6. (SBU) Since the Prime Minister's September public
address, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sar
Kheng requested donor assistance in drafting the law or
facilitating discussion with NGOs. Sieng Lapresse reiterated
this request in more explicit terms. He also said that he
had appreciated the research and input of a Howard University
professor on Cambodia's draft law on peaceful demonstrations,
and said that he would like similar help on the NGO law, if
possible. In particular, Sieng Lapresse said he is hoping to
obtain similar laws from other countries so that he can use
those models to compare and draw ideas. He noted that if the
U.S. would not provide assistance with the draft law, that
the EU had already told him that they would assist, but Sieng
Lapresse said he would prefer the help of the U.S. (Note:
The Desk and DRL have already pointed Post in the direction
of the NGO laws of Afghanistan and Japan as possible models.
End Note.)

A Measure to Combat Terrorism?

7. (SBU) When Hun Sen made his public remarks regarding the
NGO law, he said, among other things, that the law is needed
because, "terrorists might settle in the Kingdom under the
disguise of NGOs." The draft includes an article stating:
"A local association or non-governmental organization shall,
by any means, be prohibited from receiving donations or
assistance from terrorist organizations."

No Change in Procedure for Int'l NGOs

8. (SBU) Sieng Lapresse confirmed that an NGO law would not
change the registration procedures for international NGOs
such as The Asia Foundation. Currently, international NGOs
are registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and
International Cooperation.


9. (SBU) The unanswerable question is whether an NGO law
will be used to deny registration to Cambodian NGOs that are
critical of the RGC over human rights abuses, corruption,
impunity, and rule of law problems. However, we do not
accept as fact that the intention of the RGC in drafting this
law is to keep critical NGOs from working in Cambodia. It is
possible that part of the resolve of the RGC stems from the
2007 creation of Kem Sokha's Human Rights Party which emerged
through Kem Sokha's base of public support from his work with
NGO Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), and allegations
that Kem Sokha had used the NGO infrastructure to help
establish and sustain the political party. It is also true
that one of the Bali bombers was harbored in Cambodia by a
foreign-funded Islamic school in 2003, proving that a
seemingly benevolent organization in Cambodia could be a
cover for terrorists (Reftel). The MOI's goal to have at
least one public comments period is a positive sign.

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