Freedom of opinion and expression is not the freedom to insult and defame the monarchy, writes Raoul Marc Jennar.
The UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith, and special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, recently expressed their opinions about changes to the Cambodian constitution and Criminal Code.
In the joint statement, Ms Smith and Mr Kaye said, “Lese majeste provisions are incompatible with Cambodia’s obligations under international human rights law.”
Ms Smith is a very special rapporteur, indeed. She is well known in Cambodia by the survivors of the war (1970-1975) and the Pol Pot regime (1975-1979) because in one of her reports, she reduced the tragedy and the suffering of the past century as mere “trouble”!
In their comments, the two human rights activists provided a perfect example of how a radical approach to the issue of human rights discourages compliance with widely accepted principles of protecting human dignity.
Cambodia is blamed because the first amendment in the constitution is about respect for the King. According to those two activists, on behalf of freedom of opinion and expression, it seems that one has the right to insult and defame the symbol of the whole nation.
The King is not only a human being. He embodies a millennial institution that is revered by the vast majority of Cambodian people. But these extremists don’t care about our culture and neither do they care about our traditions. On the other hand, they might have intentions to send a signal to those in the opposition that they have the right to clamour for abolishing the monarchy.
Whatever it might be, we will protect our King and we will also protect the monarchy. We will uphold Article 7 of the constitution that states that: “The person of the King shall be inviolable”. Also, Article 153 states that the constitution cannot be revised if it affects the status of the constitutional monarch.
The two rapporteurs are also concerned about constitutional amendments that require Cambodian political parties to “primarily uphold the national interest” and to refuse “interference from abroad”. They don’t like this terminology because, according to them, it is to “broad”.
Let me point out that the fundamental duty of any political party is to protect the nation against attempts by foreign powers to become the instrument of foreign interests. A political party and those affiliated with it who serve foreign interests are traitors to the nation. And the authorities have the right to stop such activities.
These two rapporteurs said that the public should be consulted about the proposed changes in the constitution. “The current lack of public consultation is concerning,” they said. But Cambodia is a representative democracy. This was the choice made in 1993. The people have representatives and they have the right to express their opinion by talking or writing to them. But the final say remains in the hands of the elected people.
This is the system that works in the country within a regime of representative democracy. Do these rapporteurs want to change it in Cambodia? Just what are they clamouring for?
The Cambodian people are dedicated to a genuine democracy. Please do not confuse freedom of opinion and freedom of expression with the freedom to insult, to defame, to libel, to caricature insultingly, and to deny the human dignity of each individual. The people of Cambodia are proud to belong to a nation that has a long history – that saw glory and also tragedy – and they will not listen to irresponsible foreign individuals.
Raoul Marc Jennar, holds a PhD in Khmer Studies.