On December 5, 2009, the Cambodian government enacted the Peaceful Assembly Law, the result of almost five years of technical support and collaboration between the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and the Cambodian Ministry of Interior. The law drafting process, which involved an unprecedented level of public participation, exemplifies successful engagement between government and civil society.
In 2004, the Ministry of Interior identified the creation of a law defending the right to peaceful assembly as an urgent priority. At ABA ROLI’s request, Harvard University's Human Rights Clinic conducted comparative legal research on the topic, which served as the basis for a draft law. With the ministry’s endorsement, ABA ROLI representatives discussed the proposed law with Cambodian human rights groups and labor unions, and facilitated meetings between the ministry and civil society. In February 2006, the minister of interior hosted the first national workshop on the draft law, which the U.S. ambassador and other senior diplomats attended.
Over the next several months and after integrating comments from the workshop, the ministry distributed a revised draft for further consultations and re-drafting. ABA ROLI also facilitated discussions that involved representatives from the Cambodia office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The process was marked by frank and productive interaction, with civil society groups presenting concerns and ministry officials debating hypothetical implementation scenarios. More than half of the proposals from non-governmental organizations including that demonstration organizers shall not be held responsible for the criminal acts of demonstration participants were incorporated into the final draft.
The law represents a significant effort to protect a fundamental human right, and its development has set an important precedent for how civil society and government can work together. The Ministry of Interior has since involved stakeholders in educating the public about the law.
ABA ROLI’s support in drafting the law was part of the Program on Rights and Justice (PRAJ). ABA-ROLI works in Cambodia in partnership with the East-West Management Institute (EWMI) under the Program on Rights and Justice II (PRAJII), a cooperative agreement between EWMI and the United States Agency for International Development. The program includes work on enhancing court administration, legal education reform, advocacy and public interest law, and support to legal aid and human rights organizations.
To learn more about our work in Cambodia, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].