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KR crimes denial law set to pass

A law criminalising the denial of Khmer Rouge crimes could see a political party massively fined or even dissolved should a member breach it, according to the draft expected to be passed this week.

Submitted to the National Assembly last week and set to be debated on Friday, the Law on Refusing to Recognise Crimes Committed During Democratic Kampuchea contains a proviso allowing legal entities to be held criminally liable if their representatives are found guilty of breaking the law.  

According to a copy of the draft law obtained by the Post yesterday, Article 4 of the five-article law states that a “legal entity can be declared responsible for the crimes”. The law points to a pair of articles in the Criminal Code that lay out the conditions under which the legal entity could be held responsible and the punishments it could face.

Among the penalties listed in the Criminal Code’s Article 168 are “placement under judicial supervision”, “prohibition from undertaking one or more activities” and “dissolution”. Separately, the draft denial law provides for fines up to 500 million riel ($125,000).

The ability to punish legal entities would open political parties to severe liability, legal experts said.  

“Any organisation that is registered according to the law [is a legal entity],” said Cambodian Legal Education Center director Yeng Virak. “A political party is a legal entity.”

According to the Criminal Code’s Article 42, entities “may be held criminally responsible for offences committed on their behalf by their organs or representatives”.

To hold a political party liable for the crimes of its members “goes beyond the intention of the criminal law”, said Panhavuth Long, Cambodian Justice Initiative program officer.

But though it violates the intention, he said, holding parties responsible in the case of deniers follows the letter of the law. “Even if the [guilty] individual is not very strong [within the party], they could shut down the political party,” he said, adding that he would not be surprised if the law was used to do just that.

National Assembly spokesman Chheang Vun declined to comment, saying he was in a meeting and wouldn’t talk about the law until today. Senior ruling party lawmaker Cheam Yeap, listed as the chief drafter in the submission document accompanying the law, could not be reached for comment.

On May 20, the government released an audio clip in which Cambodia National Rescue Party president Kem Sokha can be heard saying that Tuol Sleng prison was “staged”. Both he and the party maintained the words were taken out of context, but the ensuing scandal led Prime Minister Hun Sen to publicly propose a denial law, a suggestion taken up almost immediately.

Widely reported as a genocide denial law, the actual draft is in fact far more artfully worded. Legalistically, genocide refers to the targeting of a particular national, ethnic, racial or religious group, and lawyers and historians are at odds over whether such a crime occurred under the Khmer Rouge. The law obtained yesterday, however, makes no reference to genocide, instead broadly focusing on “crimes committed during Democratic Kampuchea”.

Individuals who publicly “refuse to recognise, oppose, deny or challenge” those crimes, or those who endorse them, face between six months and two years in jail and fines of up to two million riel.

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