Cambodia: The dangers of LANGO

Press release

Ten reasons why Cambodia’s proposed Law on Associations and NGOs (LANGO) must be withdrawn:

  • LANGO imposes mandatory registration for all domestic and international associations and NGOs. The vague definition of “associations” could encompass all citizens’ groups and is likely to have a particularly severe impact on the freedom of association of grassroots groups.
  • The Ministry of the Interior (MOI) will have total discretion over the registration process. Approval or disapproval of registration applications could be subject to political considerations and, as a result, undermine the independence of Cambodia’s civil society. For instance, registration can be denied on broad grounds that an organization’s proposed activities “jeopardize peace, stability and public order or harm the national security, national unity, culture, and traditions of the Cambodian national society.”
  • LANGO bans any activity by unregistered associations and NGOs. Unregistered domestic associations and NGOs face fines from five to ten million riel (US$1,220-2,440) for violations of the law. Such fines could be prohibitive for grassroots groups.
  • Staff of unregistered domestic associations and NGOs that continue to operate without complying with the registration process can be subject to criminal prosecution.
  • There is no administrative remedy against the MOI’s rejection of a registration application. The MOI’s decision can only be appealed to the court. Foreign associations and NGOs do not have the right to appeal registration decisions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
  • Once registered, all domestic and international NGOs, as well as international associations, (but not domestic associations) will be required to operate under a vaguely defined obligation to maintain “political neutrality.” The government will have the power use this clause to de-register these types of associations and organizations for legitimate criticism of the government or the political parties.
  • The law bans leaders of de-registered associations and NGOs from ever establishing new associations or organizations.
  • LANGO grants powers for the government to terminate MOUs with international NGOs and associations, and to deport staff conducting activities in Cambodia without a valid registration or an MOU. An MOU with international NGOs or associations can be terminated on grounds of “activities which jeopardize peace, stability and public order or harm the national security, national unity, culture and traditions of the Cambodian national society.”
  • The provisions contained in LANGO are unnecessary. Current legislation is sufficient to regulate the activities of NGOs and other associations and to allow prosecution of criminal acts when, and if, committed.
  • The government has failed to engage in meaningful consultations with affected groups or the wider public before, during, and after the drafting of LANGO.
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