PHNOM PENH (DPA) — Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Cambodia will come under a new regulatory system approved by the lower house of parliament Monday, amid criticism by human rights groups and Western embassies.
All organizations in the country will be required to register, remain politically neutral, and respect Cambodia's "culture, traditions and customs," according to a draft seen earlier by dpa.
Any organization that threatens "political security, stability and order" could be refused registration or fined.
International rights groups have expressed concern that the law will be used to repress political dissent, and said it violates freedom of assembly.
The European Parliament on Thursday adopted a resolution urging Cambodia to rewrite the law with more input from civil society.
The latest requirements "impose unwarranted restrictions on the rights to freedom of association and expression," it said, "and create legal grounds for arbitrarily closing or denying registration to politically disfavoured NGOs."
Phnom Penh said the move was necessary to manage the country's more than 4,000 currently unregulated NGOs, and that it consulted 500 individuals and several embassies in the course of drafting the law.
"The US, UK and other countries have an NGO law. Why not in Cambodia?" government spokesman Phay Siphan said.
In June, Prime Minister Hun Sen dismissed foreign criticism as "a violation of Cambodia's sovereignty" and called for "respect for Cambodia's decisions as an independent state and a UN member," Radio Free Asia reported.
Monday's vote was boycotted by the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party, whose spokesman Yim Sovann said the law did not reflect "the will of civil society."
After passing the National Assembly, the bill was to go to the Senate and then to the king for final signing into law, which are expected.
(Reporting by Erin Hale)