The Anti-Corruption Unit has announced the drafting of new laws on whistleblowing and witness protection to safeguard those calling out crime and extortion at the highest levels.
The ACU in November 2014 unveiled plans for specific whistleblower legislation, but according to ACU president Om Yentieng, the unit will next month assemble a committee to begin drafting laws encompassing broader witness protection measures in relation to criminal offences – a task formerly assigned to the Ministry of Justice.
“We are now preparing to gather partners from government and independent bodies as well as civil society and the private sector to work together on this law,” he said.
Yentieng added that the laws are intended to draw social attention to witness protection guarantees in cases including drug abuse, terrorism and human trafficking.
The new measures will also bring national laws into compliance with the UN Convention Against Corruption while addressing perceived deterrents in the existing Penal Code.
“In the current legal context, whistle blowers are facing significant risks,” Pech Pisey, director of programs at the anti-corruption NGO Transparency International, which welcomed the proposed laws, said in an email.
“Because of . . . defamation provisions contained under the Penal Code, people are hesitant to report and/or be a witness of corruption cases or any other criminal cases due to the fear of retaliation, fines and possibly imprisonment.”
Would-be witnesses may also be dissuaded by Article 41 of the current anti-corruption law, which allows for the imprisonment of anyone filing a complaint against corruption that is deemed to lead to a “useless inquiry”.
As Pisey notes, administrative efforts to overturn such outdated clauses and draft new protections will need to be coupled with rigorous law-enforcement.
“ACU should also create [a] proper administrative mechanism and implementation guidelines to shield the informer from any physical, social and economic retaliation,” he says.
Sok Sam Oeun, a lawyer and legal consultant, said that if properly implemented, the new mechanisms could also mean easier indictments of officials.
“In the current system, in any investigation by the government, the court always accepts the word of officials as the truth,” he said. “Often, people want to give information to the ACU, but they are concerned and scared to see the accused.”