The Senate’s Commission on Legislation and Justice is scrutinising the “State of Emergency” draft law to make sure it does not violate existing laws of the Kingdom.
The Senate’s permanent committee yesterday handed over the draft law for the commission to study before its upcoming plenary session this week, which is expected to pass the law.
Last Friday, the National Assembly adopted the draft law and sent it to the Senate for approval.
Commission head Senator Ouk Bunchhoeun confirmed yesterday it had been tasked by the permanent committee to study and review the draft.
He said his Commission needs three days to study the draft before sending a report on its findings to the committee on Thursday before the full plenary session this Friday.
Mr Bunchhoeun said since the draft was considered “urgent”, the Senate has only five days to approve the law, but it also has a right to object to the draft and send it back to the National Assembly.
“The National Assembly has made its own assessment [of the draft law] but if we find it is unconstitutional or violates other existing laws, we have the right to object and ask them to make the necessary corrections,” he said.
On the need for the law, Mr Bunchhoeun cited “Article 22 new” of the Constitution, which states: “When the nation faces danger, the King shall put the country in a state of emergency upon the agreement of the Prime Minister and the President of the National Assembly and President of the Senate.”
“But ‘Article 22 new’ of the Constitution does not specifically mention the legal basis for the King to declare a ‘State of the Emergency,’ which is why we need this law,” he said. “Based on what I have noted, I don’t think we have anything to oppose in this draft law because it is
in compliance with the Constitution.”
To become law, the draft needs to pass through the National Assembly, Senate and the Constitutional Council and be sent to King Norodom Sihamoni for final approval.
King Sihamoni and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk left the Kingdom on April 1 for medical check-ups and treatment in Beijing. In his letter to the nation, the King said in his absence, Senate President Say Chhum will be acting Head of State, meaning he could sign and approve laws.
The Senate Permanent Committee yesterday morning discussed the draft law before sending it to the commission for review.
CPP Senator and Senate spokesman Mam Bun Neang said yesterday the Senate
is expected to hold a second permanent committee meeting this week before the plenary session which is set for Friday.
The move was made after all 115 of 125 lawmakers who attended the National Assembly’s plenary session last week unanimously voted to approve the “state of emergency” draft law.
The draft law which consists of five chapters and 12 articles had been fast-tracked for approval, skipping the Council of Minister’s deliberation.
CPP senator Sok Eysan who attended the meeting yesterday said the Senate’s Commission on Legislation and Justice is working on the draft.
“The draft law will be debated and passed by the Senate this week before we send it to the Constitutional Council,” said Mr Eysan, who also heads the Commission on Interior, National Defence, National Assembly-Senate Relations and Inspection, and Civil Service Administration.
Asked if he believes the government would put the Kingdom under a “State of Emergency” if the law is passed by the legislative bodies, Mr Eysan said the move would depend on the COVID-19 outbreak situation.
He said he could not say whether Mr Chhum as Acting Head of State is empowered to declare a “State of emergency” in King Sihamoni’s absence.
However, Mr Eysan cited “Article 28 new” of the Constitution which states: “The King shall sign the
law promulgating the Constitution; laws adopted by the National Assembly and laws completely reviewed by the Senate and shall sign the Royal decree presented by the Council of Ministers.”
“In case the King has a serious illness and is hospitalised abroad, the King has the right to delegate the power of signing off the above laws and royal decrees to the Acting Head of State through delegating writs.”
Some quarters have said the government should have included input from civil society groups and other relevant institutions before sending the draft law to legislative bodies.
Mr Eysan said it is not necessary to include input from civil society groups, saying the law was considered as “urgent” and is aimed at maintaining national security and public order and protecting the lives and the well being of the people as well as property and the environment when the nation is in crisis.
“We need our people to have the discipline to prevent the COVID-19 outbreak like what is happening in Europe,” he said. “Cambodians should not indulge in activities which can cause an outbreak in the community.”
Justice Minister Keut Rith has defended the draft law, saying the law was necessary for the government to protect national security and public health.
He also said the Kingdom is not alone in establishing a law to declare a state of emergency.
“In the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic, many countries have used an emergency law, as well
as introduced necessary measures, such as placing some territories in a state of emergency to protect the people and maintain public health.”
Chheang Vannarith, president of the Asian Vision Institute, said yesterday: “The State of Emergency Law” will help the government
to deal with coronavirus outbreak.
“Cambodia needs to prepare all available tools and measures in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “The emergency law provides the necessary legal basis for the government to exercise effectively its whole-of-government approach to deal with the crisis.”
Meanwhile, the Cambodian Human Rights Committee yesterday issued a statement, saying the State of Emergency draft law is in compliance with “Article 22 new” of the Constitution.
“The drafting of the Law on the Management of the Nation in State of Emergency is neither, by nature, a human rights violation nor a power-gathering tool as alleged by a handful of opposition groups, but it is a valuable legal tool for the defence of the right to life, the right to peace, social stability and development, which is
the people’s aspiration throughout the country and in compliance with the principles of the rule of law in a democratic society,” it said.
CHRC said the law is also permitted by national and international human rights standards, including the Constitution of Cambodia.
“Looking at international practices and a number of democratic countries in the region, Cambodia’s draft laws adhere to a set of balanced and central norms and standards, which are neither too strict nor too loose as Cambodia has studied the patterns of practice taken by those democratic countries, including in the Cambodian context,” it said.
It also appealed to the general public not to worry about the drafting and enforcement of this law.