THE National Assembly passed articles of the new penal code related to intentional and unintentional murder on Monday, though opposition members say that these statutes are vague and will be easily manipulated by the judiciary and ruling party to perpetuate the Kingdom’s culture of impunity.
Lawmakers from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party blasted parliamentarians from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party in debate on the Assembly floor over the provisions of the new code, which they said would be subject to political manipulation.
SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said that because the code does not provide a clear distinction between intentional and unintentional murder, members of law enforcement who commit murder will likely be able to avoid incurring severe penalties for their crimes.
“The representative from the Ministry of Justice explained to the National Assembly that the deaths of prisoners or peaceful demonstrators at the hands of law enforcement will be treated as intentional murder, but the version of the law that was passed does not make this clear,” Yim Sovann said. “We, therefore, remain concerned about the culture of impunity the prevails in our society because of the influence of the powerful and the judiciary’s lack of independence.”
The SRP parliamentarian added that attacks on demonstrators by police officers have been a persistent issue in Cambodia, particularly in relation to land disputes, but that perpetrators are seldom prosecuted for these abuses.
Hy Sophea, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, served as the government’s representative to explain and defend the penal code to National Assembly members. He maintained that the document makes the difference between intentional and unintentional murder sufficiently clear for judges to carry out their work.
“Nothing is perfect, but this criminal code is comprehensive enough that we will be able to implement it effectively,” he told the Assembly.
Cheam Yeap, a CPP lawmaker, said that although the complaints voiced by the opposition were legitimate, the checks and balances of the Cambodian legal system would allow the courts to function effectively.
“There is some concern over the ability of individual court officers to implement the law correctly, but we have the Supreme Council of the Magistracy to oversee the performance of these officers,” he said.
Ny Chakrya, head of monitoring for the rights group Adhoc, worried that the subjective judgement required by the penal code would leave it open to manipulation by judges and prosectuors.
“Normally when the meaning of the law is general, lawmakers must make an established commentary to clarify it. Here in Cambodia, we have only the letter of the law, so individual judges and prosecutors must determine its meaning for themselves,” he said, adding that “the concern is that different judges can give different meanings to the same article”.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE