Cambodia’s newly amended penal code: an easy way to ‘incite’ conviction

In his recent report the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Surya P. Subedi stated: “Cambodia remains a complex country in terms of the protection and promotion of human rights, as democratization has not yet fully taken root.” Subedi also remarked upon the country’s struggle for an independent judiciary, free from political ties or obstruction. Subedi’s findings were supported by Cambodia’s Centre for Human Rights’ President, Ou Virak, in an Open Letter to the United Nations Secretary General Ban K-moon whereby he wrote of “what a recent resolution of the European Parliament termed ‘the strategy of Cambodia’s ruling party…to use a politically subservient judiciary to crack down on all government critics.”’

 So how is the situation four months later one may ask? The answer, to this question appears to be not positive. It is from the same source, KI-Media, whereby the open letter above was quoted that another voice of dissent, from Cambodian citizen, Seng Kunnaka- a Cambodian employee of the World Food Programme in Phnom Penh, was heard and silenced. Kannaka’s expression, of sharing web articles with his co-workers, became, ultimately, the accidental catalyst towards his own present imprisonment.

 Cambodia’s Constitution stipulates to “recognize and respect human rights as stipulated in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the covenants and conventions related to human rights, women’s and children’s rights,” however the country has imposed a newly amended Penal Code under which, through Article 495, Kunnaka could be legitimately charged and tried for ‘incitement’- which can mean any action which falls under the rather broad heading of: ‘directly provok(ing) the commission of a crime or an act that creates serious turmoil in society….’As Cambodia’s information minister, Khieu Kanharith, confirmed: “Before, using the argument of ‘freedom of expression’ and opposition party status, some people could insult anybody or any institution. This is not the case now.”

 Quite apart from the newly amended Penal Code clearly derogating from Article 19 of the International Covenant on Cultural and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Cambodiais party. , Article 10 of the Uited Nantions Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) clearly states, “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.”

 It seems that not only are Cambodia’s citizen have been denied fundamental, internationally acclaimed and ratified human rights and freedoms. The courts  seem bound by restrictive political allegiances which may have a serious impact on ensuring that fair trial standards are upheld. As such, Cambodian citizens are in danger of being doubly offended!

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