CAMBODIA: The silencing of the Cambodian parliamentary opposition should be stopped

Democracy in Cambodia was plunged into a serious crisis as the Parliament withdrew parliamentary immunity to Cambodia’s opposition leader Sam Rainsy and two other members of Parliament from his party. The move is an attempt to silence the parliamentary opposition in the country.

Parliamentary assembly members in Cambodia are normally exempt from legal prosecution or arrest for opinions expressed while fulfilling their duties. A vote of two-thirds of the parliamentary members though has revoked this safeguard in this case. This vote by Parliament, however, goes against the spirit of the constitutional provision granting parliamentary immunity that was to end past practices that prevailed in Cambodia prior to the 1993 U.N.-sponsored election and the promulgation of a new constitution several months later.

Fear has been expressed that the opposition leader and his party members may be subjected to legal proceedings relating to statements made about the corrupt practices of some leading political figures. It is well known that there are no legal mechanisms for the control of corruption in Cambodia. Allegations of corruption relating to business and other affairs in the country are quite common, and comments about corruption will not surprise any Cambodian.

Criminal defamation has been condemned the world over. However, in Cambodia, where there has not been the proper development of a penal code, criminal defamation may be punished by heavy fines or imprisonment. People can be arrested before trials are held and can be kept in detention until the trial is conducted.

In the case of political trials, the outcome is predetermined, for sadly, there has been very little development of the court system in recent decades. Many observers and critics have pointed out the extreme defects of the legal system; but even after the 1993 elections, after which Cambodia accepted liberal democracy as its ruling philosophy, no genuine changes in the law have been brought about to ensure a well-functioning court system.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) expresses its shock and sadness on the removal of immunity for Sam Rainsy and his party members, a decision which will seriously paralyse parliamentary democracy and economic development in Cambodia, for economic development, which is the declared aim of the government, cannot be achieved without serious legal changes to ensure transparency and accountability. The impressions of corruption do not disappear simply because people who raise these matters are silenced. Such denials by silencing critics only plunge the country into its previous economic dark ages which are, in fact, from what Cambodia has been struggling to escape since 1993. It is the existence of a vibrant opposition that will convince the world that there is, indeed, an attempt to modernise Cambodia and to order the economy on a rational basis. The present move will raise doubts as to whether Cambodia is capable of implementing serious economic, social and political reforms that are required for its development and the welfare of its people.

To Cambodians aspiring to see a change from their repressive history, the present attack on Cambodia’s opposition leaders will be a sad reminder of their previous experiences. Although the new constitution promises to eradicate the past practices of repression, the Cambodian people see only a repetition of such practices.

The AHRC calls upon the Cambodian government to restore parliamentary immunity to the three opposition party members and urges the international community to express their serious concerns to the government as well by seeking the revocation of this decision to remove parliamentary immunity.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-12-2005
Countries : Cambodia,
Issues : Judicial system, Rule of law,