UCA News

Cambodia

Cambodia accused of crippling rights under Covid-19 cover

Emergency law would allow the state to use the army in enforcing the law

UCA News reporter, Phnom Penh

UCA News reporter, Phnom Penh

Updated: April 03, 2020 09:03 AM GMT
Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors
Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors
Cambodia accused of crippling rights under Covid-19 cover

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks to the media at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh on Feb. 24. (Photo: Tang Chhin/AFP)

Share this article :
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has been accused of using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to introduce a new law that empowers him to restrict civil and political rights in the country.

Cambodia’s Council of Ministers on March 31 passed the "Law on Governing the Country in a State of Emergency" bill, purportedly to help the government take stern measures to check the spread of the coronavirus.

Human Rights Watch says the bill would allow the government to “restrict all civil and political liberties and target human rights, democracy and media groups.”

The law allows the government to restrict travel, including people leaving their homes. It can prohibit meetings and gatherings. It also empowers the government to put citizens under surveillance and ban or limit the publication of news.

The new law empowers the government to ban business and shut down public and private space. It also allows the state to use the army in enforcing the law.

The government is using the Covid-19 pandemic “as a pretext to assert absolute power over all aspects of civil, political, social and economic life — all without any time limits or checks on abuses of power,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

Although approved by the council, the draft bill is not yet law as the only person authorized to declare a state of emergency is Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni.

Before the king does that, the nation’s constitution requires him to agree on it with the prime minister and the presidents of the Senate and National Assembly.

However, Cambodia’s one-party National Assembly, considered a rubber-stamp parliament, is expected to pass it when it comes to a vote around mid-April, reports said.

Even before the coronavirus crisis, Hun Sen “ran roughshod over human rights, so these sweeping, undefined and unchecked powers should set off alarm bells among Cambodia’s friends and donors,” Adams said in an April 2 statement.

The rights group called on the government to withdraw the draft law and introduce a new one that would not cripple the civil and political freedom of ordinary people.

Chhin Malin, a ministry of justice spokesman, dismissed the criticism. “Before criticizing us, I would like Human Rights Watch to look at other countries’ laws in the context of the Covid-19 outbreak,” he told Radio Free Asia.

Leng Peng Long, Cambodia’s National Assembly spokesman, said members of parliament would take up the draft bill as soon as possible as quick action is needed to protect the public.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cambodia is a party, allows countries to adopt exceptional and temporary restrictions on certain rights. But the measures must be only those “strictly required by the exigencies of the situation,” it says.

Support UCA News...

As 2020 unfolds, we are asking readers like you to help us keep Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) free so it can be accessed from anywhere in the world at no cost.

That has been our policy for years and was made possible by donations from European Catholic funding agencies. However, like the Church in Europe, these agencies are in decline and the immediate and urgent claims on their funds for humanitarian emergencies in Africa and parts of Asia mean there is much less to distribute than there was even a decade ago.

Forty years ago, when UCA News was founded, Asia was a very different place - many poor and underdeveloped countries with large populations to feed, political instability and economies too often poised on the edge of collapse. Today, Asia is the economic engine room of the world and funding agencies quite rightly look to UCA News to do more to fund itself.

UCA News has a unique product developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes. Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to - South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.

And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters that cover 22 countries and experienced native English-speaking editors to render stories that are informative, informed and perceptive.

We report from the ground where other news services simply can't or won't go. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don't have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.

With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.

Click here to find out the ways you can support UCA News. You can make a difference for as little as US$5...
UCAN Donate
YOUR DAILY
NEWSLETTER
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter
 
Support UCA News

William J. Grimm, MM

Publisher

Union of Catholic Asian News

"As Pope Francis has said, we live not so much in an era of change as in a change of era. That is especially true in Asia and for the churches of Asia. UCA News is the dedicated, Asia-wide news and information service for the Church in Asia and we need your help to maintain the service."