A copy of the hastily-drafted “state of emergency” law, leaked Tuesday evening, looks to give the Cambodian government sweeping powers during an emergency, enabling the administration to curtail a large number of civil rights with seemingly no serious checks and balances.
The draft legislation, titled ‘Law on National Administration in the State of Emergency’, was leaked Tuesday evening and verified by a Justice Ministry official. The law, according to Prime Minister Hun Sen, was necessitated by the current coronavirus pandemic and has already been approved by the Council of Ministers, and is expected to head to parliament soon.
Based on Article 22 of the Constitution, the draft law requires the King to declare the state of emergency, after reaching consensus with the Prime Minister and Presidents of the Senate and National Assembly.
The state of emergency can be declared by a Royal Decree for a limited or unlimited period, the draft law states, though providing no guidelines or restrictions on how long it can be. It only states that the state of emergency ends with another Royal Decree.
The draft allows for a “state of emergency” to be declared in multiple scenarios, ranging from national security situations such as war or foreign invasion to public health concerns such as pandemics and severe calamity. It additionally allows for this law to be used during the vaguely-worded scenario of “severe chaos to national security and social order.”
Article 5 of the draft law lays out powers and actions that the government can take in this state of emergency, including some that severely curtail people’s civil rights. This includes restrictions on the right to travel and leaving one’s home, affecting the right to freedom of movement.
Prohibitions on meetings and congregation of people would impinge on the right to freedom of assembly and association. It allows the state to partake in telecommunication surveillance and to ban or restrict publication of news that could cause panic or chaos, seemingly without a court’s sanction.
The government can also ban business activity, close public, and private spaces and can require the mobilization of troops, adding that the army can be deployed to enforce this law.
“During wartime or during any other circumstance that the national security is faced with serious danger the governance of the nation in the state of emergency shall be ruled by a martial-law regime,” the draft legislation reads.
Obstructing the implementation of this law can result in a prison sentence of up to 10 years, and, in some cases, a one billion riel fine (around $250,000).
Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin confirmed the veracity of the draft, only to add that it was headed to the National Assembly and Senate soon.
“Yes, the draft is genuine. It just leaked to the public,” Chin Malin said. “I can’t comment or explain the meaning of the [draft law].”
Hun Sen last week hinted at requiring a law to govern the declaration of a state of emergency, adding that it would impinge on citizens’ civil rights.
“I think the law is just a means to be ready and in hand when the situation is out of control,” Hun Sen said on Monday, adding that he was unsure if he would enforce the law.
The law comes as Cambodia has faced serious indictments over its human rights record, which have included the dissolution of the opposition party, the jailing of its president and lower-level members, muzzling of the press and attacks on NGOs and unions.