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(New York) – The Cambodian government should withdraw a proposed law that would severely limit the rights of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Cambodia, Human Rights Watch and 10 other international human rights groups said in a May 29, 2015, letter to 44 foreign governments and the European Union. The groups urged donors and others to press the government not to revive a 2011 draft law that was shelved under domestic and international pressure because it threatened freedom of association and expression.

Cambodia’s Council of Ministers discussed the draft NGO law on May 29 and is scheduled to discuss it again on June 5 before sending the measure to the National Assembly, dominated by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party. A new law is unnecessary because existing legislation already addresses legitimate government concerns about the operations of NGOs, the international organizations said.

“Donors and other governments should speak out strongly to protect the freedom of Cambodia’s organizations to continue their valuable work in poverty reduction, child protection, human rights, and other areas,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “They should use their influence to convince the Cambodian government to back off from this dangerous attempt to stymie freedom of association and expression in the country.”

The government has not made the draft law public and subject to informed public debate, despite numerous calls to do so from domestic and international organizations. Media reports say the draft is similar to the 2011 draft law that would have empowered national and local authorities to arbitrarily deny registration or close existing NGOs, associations, and community-based organizations that were critical of the government.

The letter was signed by Article 19, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum Asia), Civil Rights Defenders, Front Line Defenders, Global Witness, Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, Protection International, and Southeast Asian Press Alliance.

“Cambodia needs legislative reform to protect basic human rights, not new legal tools for violating them,” Adams said.  “Foreign donors should promote such reform and speak out against regressive laws.”

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