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Senate expert commision okays draft law

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Justice Minister Keut Rith speaks to members of the expert commission. Senate

The Senate’s Commission on Legislation and Justice yesterday finished its study on the “The State of Emergency” and said it does not violate the Constitution or any laws in the Kingdom.

The Senate’s permanent committee on Monday handed over the draft law for the expert commission to study before its upcoming plenary session. The National Assembly last week also unanimously approved the draft law.

Senate spokesman Mam Bun Neang said yesterday the Senate’s Permanent Committee will follow its schedule to review a report made by the commission today before sending the draft law bill for the plenary session for debate tomorrow.

Ouk Bunchhoeun, head of the Senate’s Commission on Legislation and Justice, yesterday also held a meeting with Justice Minister Keut Rith at the Senate to review the draft law.

Mr Bunchhoeun said the commission, which has five members, had finished studying the draft law and will send its report to the permanent committee today before tomorrow’s plenary session. He said although the commission found “some uncertainties” in the draft, it is considered as being in “compliance with the Constitution”.

“The commission agreed with the draft law which was sent by the National Assembly,” Mr Bunchhoeun said. “We consider that the content of ‘State of emergency’ law is in compliance [with the Constitution] and there is no need to send the draft back to the National Assembly.”

“We are not opposing this draft as we checked with the Constitution, the Criminal Code and other existing laws and found it fine,” he added. “If other senators disagree during the plenary session, it is their right,” he added.

Mr Bunchhoeun said the commission also reviewed other existing laws before concluding that the draft does not violate any of them.

He said restriction or prohibition on people’s rights or freedom of movement is unavoidable if a country is put under a “State of Emergency”.

“There will be restrictions on people because these are necessary,” Mr Bunchhoeun said. “Even though the draft law states that a State of Emergency may be in place for up to three months, the duration may end earlier.”

He also said the government must continuously report on measures taken during a “State of Emergency” to the National Assembly and the Senate.

Mr Bunchhoeun said the legislative bodies may ask for additional necessary information from the government, within the framework of controlling and evaluating the measures put in place for the nation, when it is jeopardised.

He also cited Article 86 of the Constitution, which states that if the country is in a state of emergency, the National Assembly shall meet every day continuously.

“The National Assembly has the right to terminate this state of emergency whenever the situation permits. If the National Assembly is not able to meet because of circumstances, such as the occupation by foreign forces, the declaration of the state of emergency must be automatically extended. During the state of emergency, the National Assembly shall not be dissolved,” the article states.

Mr Bunchhoeun also cited “Article 102 new” of the Constitution, which says if the Senate cannot assemble due to the invasion of foreign troops, the proclamation of the state of emergency shall be continuously in effect automatically.

However, four United Nations human rights experts said the law may restrict the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. In a statement sent to the government, they expressed their concern over the plan to adopt the draft law.

The joint communiqué sent last week and released on Tuesday, was signed by UN Human Rights rapporteur Rhona Smith; Leigh Toomey, vice-chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Dainius Puras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.

In it, they urged any appropriate legal measures should strike the right balance with the respect for human rights.

“While we do not wish to prejudge the accuracy of the information received, we express our deep concern with the far-reaching scope of the draft law and its impact on the enjoyment of civil and political rights,” the UN experts said.

They also expressed concern over the lack of an adequate oversight mechanism to prevent, safeguard and provide a remedy in case there is an abuse of authority.

Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin yesterday dismissed the concerns raised by the UN experts as being unreasonable.

“They are criticising Cambodia for preparing a ‘State of Emergency’ law while all democratic countries have it to manage their nations, including the countries of those critics which are implanting this law,” he said.

Mr Malin, who is also the vice-president of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, said the law is permitted by national and international human rights

standards, including the Constitution of Cambodia, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.

“The restriction and prohibition of the people’s rights are aimed to serve the public interest, especially during emergency times,” he said. “Their [the UN experts’] concern is not correct. Actually, Cambodia should have had this law after our Constitution was adopted in 1993.”

“The Constitution mentions having a ‘State of Emergency’ but we don’t have any law to manage the country during one. Now that we are facing a COVID-19 pandemic, we realise the Kingdom needs this law,” Mr Malin added.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday thanked the people for following the government’s directives, as well as the Ministry of Health’s advice, over COVID-19. He also called on Cambodians living overseas to respect any state of emergency measures adopted in the respective countries.

“Please do not do anything illegal while staying in other countries, which are implementing a state of emergency,’” he said.

Mr Hun Sen also appealed to the migrant workers who work abroad, especially in Thailand, to obey the laws and any regulation in the countries, including complying with bans on gathering, holding parties and other measures taken to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

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