The Constitutional Council of Cambodia is expected to review the “State of Emergency” draft law soon after it was unanimously adopted by legislative bodies, passing it to the final phase of becoming legislation.
This move was made after all 54 out of 62 senators who attended the Senate plenary session on Friday, voted in favour of the draft law.
As the draft had been fast-tracked for approval, Rhona Smith, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, had said in a statement the new law in response to the COVID-19 pandemic risks violating the right to privacy, silencing free speech and criminalising peaceful assembly.
CCC secretary-general Taing Ratana said yesterday the council has not yet received the draft law from the Senate over the weekend and is expected to arrive today.
He said the CCC has 30 days to work on the draft law, but would do so as soon as it is received in order to check if it violates the Constitution.
“The decision of the Constitutional Council of Cambodia is final,” Mr Ratana said.
The CCC comprises nine members, three appointed by the National Assembly, three by the Supreme Council of Magistracy and three by the King.
During the plenary session led by Senate acting president Sim Ka on Friday, senators debated the draft law before expressing their support for it.
Senator Ouk Bunchhoeun, head of the Senate’s Commission on Legislation and Justice, said during the session “The State of Emergency” Law was drafted in compliance with the legal norms of the Kingdom, especially Articles 91 new, 107 new and 113 new of the Constitution.
“The content of the ‘State of Emergency Law’ was drafted in order to meet the requirements to ensure the implementation of Article 22 new [declaration of emergency] of the Constitution,” he said.
Mr Bunchhoeun noted an emergency law provides a legal basis to respond to situations which may require the nation to be put under a state of emergency to maintain national security and public order, protect the lives and wellbeing of the people, as well as protect property and the environment.
Senator and CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said at the session the current COVID-19 pandemic was a real concern for the world. He praised efforts taken by the government and the Ministry of Health to prevent an outbreak of the disease in the Kingdom.
He said the Kingdom needs to prepare well to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak, especially by having a “State of Emergency” law in case the situation gets out of control.
Mr Eysan also rejected claims from critics who say the law will be used by the government to suppress the people’s rights and freedom. He said it is unfair to accuse the government of abusing its power since governments in Western countries have already declared states of emergency.
“The law is not used to strengthen the government’s power like what ill-intentioned people have said,” he said. “This is a spirit of responsibility of the CPP and government who are legitimate representatives of the people created through the election.”
Mr Eysan, who strongly supports the emergency draft law, said the government pays attention to the safety, health and other interests of the people.
Senator Tim Phan said the law is necessary for the Kingdom to use in a difficult situation.
“I understand the ‘State of Emergency Law’ is very important, especially in this situation where the world is facing a COVID-19 pandemic. The number of deaths have increased rapidly and it is difficult to contain [the virus spread],” he said. “There are many countries which have already placed their nations under a ‘State of Emergency.’”
Mr Phan also requested Justice Minister Keut Rith to broadly disseminate the law among the public to make people clearly understand the contents of the law.
Mr Rith, representing the government, told the Senate if there is no “State of Emergency” law, the Kingdom will face an obstacle in implementing Article 22 new of the Constitution which states: “When the nation faces danger, the king shall proclaim to the people putting the country in a state of emergency with the agreement of the Prime Minister, the president of Assembly and the president of the Senate.”
“The question is when we place the Kingdom in a ‘State of Emergency,’ how can we manage the country?” Mr Rith asked. “There is no specific law we can use to implement such a measure when the King declares a state of emergency.”
He said the government has no intention to prohibit or restrict people’s rights but instead will help the people during difficult times, such as an emergency situation.
“After the draft law is adopted, Cambodia will have a law like what many other countries have,” Mr Rith said. “Cambodia should have had it since 1993 after our Constitution was adopted… Just as HE Sok Eysan has said regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, many other countries are implementing their state of emergency laws.”
He said even if the law was adopted the government cannot impose a state of emergency without the King’s declaration.
“The most interesting point in the law which other countries do not have is that in order to place the country in a ‘State of Emergency,’ the King needs agreement from top institution leaders, such as the Prime Minister, National Assembly president and Senate president,” Mr Rith. “But in other countries, the power to declare a state of emergency falls solely on the head of state or prime minister.”
On Friday, Ms Smith said in a statement the emergency measures must be necessary and proportionate to the crisis they seek to address.
“The broadly worded language on the protection of national security and public order, ostensibly aimed at addressing COVID-19, can potentially be used to infringe on the right to privacy and unnecessarily restrict freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” she said.
Ms Smith said the law grants extensive powers to the government for an initial period of three months, including restrictions and bans on the distribution of information and measures for monitoring and surveillance, by all means.
“As Cambodia joins a growing number of countries which have announced special measures to tackle the public health threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, human rights must be at the centre of its response,” she added.
However, the Permanent Mission of Cambodia to the United Nations Office at Geneva said on Friday, Ms Smith’s statement regarding the Law on the Management of the Nation in State of Emergency contained “biased and misleading elements” with political intones.
“Her assertion that the LMNSE jeopardises human rights is unfounded and indicative of a selective and biased application of human rights. The fact is this legislation is permissible by national and international human rights instruments,” it added.
The Permanent Mission also urged Ms Smith to abide by the purposes and principles of the United Nations and to perform her duties impartially and objectively with strict adherence to the Code of Conduct, as well as the Operational Manual of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.