Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Draft law proposes to expand use of military court

Draft law proposes to expand use of military court

Draft law proposes to expand use of military court

A draft law on the organization of courts gives the military court expanded jurisdiction

to cover any case "regarding the violation of people's security", causing

concerns among human rights observers and opposition party members about potential

abuses of power.

An English translation of the draft law was obtained by the Post on August 22. A

source at the Ministry of Justice confirmed the accuracy of the translation August

25, on condition of anonymity.

Article 109 of Chapter 6 of the draft Law on Organization of the Courts reads:

"Military offence is an offence committed by a soldier in the army and relates

to military discipline, or affects the property of the armed forces. In case of ordinary

criminal offence, the first instance court of each province or municipality shall

hear it."

The draft goes on to say: "Also the military court has the jurisdiction to hear

cases regarding the violation on the people's security which needs to be vanquished

by the criminal law."

The Ministry of Justice source said that the draft law has already been examined

by legal experts at the Council of Ministers and was sent back to the Ministry of

Justice for re-examination with the assistance of Japan International Cooperation

Agency (JICA).

The source noted that the draft law could change before being passed by the National

Assembly.

Under the current 1993 law on the organization of the courts, the military court

can only rule on "military offenses [which] are those committed by military

members in the army and which concern with military discipline or effected properties

of military armed forces."

Observers said the ambiguously worded article could allow more civilians to be prosecuted

before the Military Court under penal code laws, as seen recently in the case of

opposition MP Cheam Channy.

So Mosseny, Court Watch Project monitor for the Center for Social Development, said

the draft law's use of the term "people's security" left room for a wide

range of interpretations.

"This could be dangerous. The legislature should never leave power with the

judiciary to interpret," said Mosseny.

Naly Pilorge, director of human rights group Licadho, also expressed concern.

"The draft in question implies or can be interpreted to say that the military

court would not only be able to try and charge military personnel, but also charge

and try civilians for offences that 'relate' to the military or even less specific

for offences that 'relate' to national security," said Pilorge.

Son Chhay, a Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) parliamentarian, said the new law, if passed,

could be used to target enemies of the ruling party.

"The ruling party always creates the law so as to legalize their abusive activities,"

said Chhay.

"I think that the Article 109 of the draft law seems to be a copy from the law

during the State of Cambodia when the country was in war," he said. "During

the war the law gave power to the military to cover the civilian."

Aside from the controversial jailing of Cheam Channy earlier this month, a new case

involving the opposition party has been sent for investigation to the military court.

General Hing Bun Heang, chief of Prime Minister Hun Sen's bodyguard unit and a three-star

general, is suing opposition-allied newspaper Moneaksekar Khmer and Tiolong Samura,

the wife of Sam Rainsy, for defamation.

The newspaper printed an article titled "New evidence of government involvement

in the 1997 grenade attack" on July 28.

Heang said he had sent a dossier on the case to the military court for investigation,

although it is understood an official complaint has yet to be made.

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