CAMBODIA: Withdrawal of libel suits should be followed by removal of criminal defamation law

The promise made by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to withdraw criminal defamation lawsuits against five human rights activists is welcomed by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). The five activists are Mr Kem Sokha, President of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), Mr Pa Nguon Teang, CCHR Deputy Director and Radio Director, Mr Mam Sonando, Beehive Radio Owner and Broadcaster, Mr Rong Chhun, President of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association, and Mr Yeng Virak, Executive Director of the Community Legal Education Centre. All local and international actors that took a lively interest in the case of these activists must also be congratulated.

The AHRC appeals to Prime Minister Hun Sen to withdraw criminal defamation charges against other human rights activists, trade union leaders and politicians as well, most of whom have fled Cambodia during and prior to the recent crackdown on government critics. Such a measure will do much to counter the severe fear psychosis paralysing the country. 

More importantly however, the Cambodian government must decriminalise defamation itself, so as to bring Cambodian law in conformity with international legal doctrines, for which criminal defamation is now obsolete. Such “laws” have no place in modern societies and should be relegated to the archives of past repression and bad governance.

This decriminalisation of defamation would significantly enhance the confidence of the Cambodian people as well as the international community with regards to the implementation of the Cambodian constitution, which not only enshrines democracy and the rule of law, but also guarantees the protection of basic human rights including the freedom of expression. For too long there has persisted an impression that the Constitution is confined to paper with no real respect shown towards it. The s would go a long way in allaying fears that have gripped the Cambodian people over a long period of time. It would also give meaning to efforts made since 1992 by the Cambodian people and the international community to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cambodia. 

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-011-2006
Countries : Cambodia,
Issues : Judicial system, Rule of law,