The state of emergency draft law has reached the Constitutional Council after being approved by all 54 Senators during an extraordinary session on Friday.
With the Constitution stipulating that a state of emergency shall be declared by the King, who remains in China for medical check-ups, its legality and the bill itself would have to be reviewed by the council, Prime Minister Hun Sen and legislators said.
Senate spokesperson Mam Bun Neang confirmed to The Post on Sunday the bill was sent to the council on Friday afternoon.
“The Constitutional Council will start deliberating it on Monday or Tuesday whether it is in line with the Constitution or not. After the review, the council will report to the King. So, I think the draft law will reach the King or Royal Palace [this] week,” he said.
During the Senate’s extraordinary session on Friday, newly appointed Minister of Justice Koeut Rith defended the bill. He said the law would not affect the people’s rights and freedom as claimed by some civil society groups and senior UN rights officials.
“This draft law is not made to restrict citizens’ freedom as criticised by some outsiders, but only to help the country in a state of emergency,” he said.
Four UN rights officials on April 9 sent a four-page communication to the government, expressing concerns over the bill which they said would affect civil rights and freedom if passed in its entirety.
One of the officials, Rhona Smith – Special Rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia – reiterated her concern in a statement on Friday that a state of emergency declared in response to the Covid-19 pandemic “risked violating the right to privacy, silencing free speech and criminalising peaceful assembly”.
“A state of emergency should be guided by human rights principles and should not, in any circumstances, be an excuse to quash dissent or disproportionately and negatively impact any other group,” she said.
Rith stressed that the law will only be used when the country runs into dangers and by no means is aimed at restricting civil rights in normal situations. He said a line needs to be drawn between arbitrarily depriving citizens of their rights and governing the country in a state of emergency.
“Is there any country that has the law to declare a state of emergency without restricting freedom? From the Covid-19 experience, it’s evident that there isn’t any. Some countries impose lockdowns and confine citizens to their homes. This is a travel ban.
“Some countries ban the gathering of more than five people. This is a ban on freedom of assembly. In [democratic] France, for example, can people exercise their rights to demonstrations during this time? No, they cannot. This is a fact,” he said.
Rith said the law is meant to complement and enforce Article 22 of the Constitution, which stipulates that a state of emergency shall be declared by the King on the request of the prime minister and approval by the National Assembly and Senate presidents.
He said currently, there is no other law that can be applied should the King declare a state of emergency.
“After it is signed into law and promulgated by the King, Cambodia will have a [specific] law like other countries around the world. This is not an isolated case as some other nations have already declared a state of emergency to contain the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
He said the only difference is that in other nations, the prime minister or president has the power to declare it without consulting the legislative bodies.
Consisting of five chapters and 12 articles, the draft law sets out formalities, procedures and terms to declare a state of emergency if the country runs into danger and stipulates a maximum 10-year imprisonment for anyone caught breaking it or hindering its enforcement.