Today, 10 December, marks International Human Rights Day (“IHRD”). Proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1950, IHRD aims to bring the world’s attention to theUniversal Declaration of Human Rights(“UDHR”) as “the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.” However, despite the dramatic improvement in Cambodia’s human rights situation since the Khmer Rouge atrocities of the 1970s, human rights violations remain a serious problem in Cambodian society, with those from poor and marginalized communities particularly affected. IHRD is an important moment for the human rights community in Cambodia to raise their concerns, and over the last few days human rights defenders (“HRDs”), monks, activists and civil society groups marched from across the country to Phnom Penh. They gathered outside the National Assembly this morning to call for, among other things, improved labour rights, land rights, and the release of imprisoned fellow activists.
Yesterday, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (“CCHR”) launched an exhibition entitled, “Where is My Justice?”, which highlights Cambodia’s deeply rooted culture of impunity and shares the experiences of victims of human rights violations. Impunity affects a wide range of people in Cambodia, from demonstrators subjected to excessive use of force by the police and judicial harassment, to people forcibly evicted from their homes in illegal land grabs or members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community who face discrimination and attacks; all have failed to receive justice for crimes committed against them. Continue reading →
Two years have passed since Hang Serei Oudom, a journalist reporting on illegal logging activities, was found brutally murdered in the trunk of his car in Ratanakiri province. Two years have passed, yet freedom of expression continues to be stifled, and a culture of impunity remains rampant within Cambodia.
One of CCHR’s campaign posters from our 2013 Impunity Campaign
Hang Serei Oudom is one of the 12 journalists that have been murdered in Cambodia since 1994, and one of 619 journalists killed globally since 2004. Within Cambodia, each of these murders has been met with impunity. The failure to pursue the investigation and charge Hang Serei Oudom’s murderers, despite the seriousness of the crime, highlights the continuing power of the elite over the judicial system. Beyond this, Hang Serei Oudom’s death, along with many others, was used as a warning to others around the country, and was a direct attack on the right to freedom of expression.
Unfortunately, violence and intimidation are just one means used to undermine freedom of expression in Cambodia. This has been demonstrated by the RGC’s recent announcement of a pilot program to censor online content, which cites China and Syria as inspiration for the reform. The internet is essential for sharing knowledge and ideas, the growth of social movements, self-expression, and flagging human rights abuses. Most importantly, the internet permits democratic discussion that is restricted in other spheres. Instead, the new laws move to censor discussion and remove content that is critical of the ruling political party.
With the recent passage of the three judicial reform laws without any civil society consultation, the issue of the lack of legislative transparency is an important one in Cambodia. As Cambodia’s two main political parties finalize a deal to end the year-long political deadlock and the opposition prepares to take its seats in the National Assembly, it is important to look at how legislative transparency can be increased in Cambodia, so that the new National Assembly passes any and all future laws in a transparent manner.
CCHR released a new Briefing Note today on the topic; you can read it in its entirety here, but we’ve also summarized some of the main points below.
What is legislative transparency?
The Transparency and Accountability Initiative defines “transparency” as when information is “presented in plain and readily comprehensible language and formats appropriate for different stakeholders” and “made available in sufficient time to permit analysis, evaluation and engagement by relevant stakeholders.”
In May 2012, the government of Cambodia announced that a Draft Cybercrime Law (“the Draft”) was in the works. Calls to see copies of the Draft by human rights organizations were ignored. However, an unofficial copy of the Draft was leaked to the public in April 2014. The supposed purpose of the law is to combat online criminal activities.The Draft criminalizes hacking, the stealing of data and the production of pornography on the Internet.
However, it seems the Draft has an additional hidden agenda. Asked about the need for a Cybercrime Law in May 2012, Press and Quick Reaction Unit spokesman Ek Tha explained to The Phnom Penh Post: “We need to prevent any ill-willed people or bad-mood people from spreading false information, groundless information that could tend to mislead the public and affect national security or our society. We need to control this.” As such, it seems that the underlying purpose of the Draft is controlling information circulating on the Internet.
In fact, there is a lengthy Article in the Draft that regulates the sharing of information on the Internet. Article 28 makes it a crime to create web content that is “deemed to hinder the sovereignty and integrity of the Kingdom of Cambodia,” to publish information (even if true) that is deemed to incite persons to commit anarchism, and to publish (retweet, repost, or forward an email) material that is “deemed to generate insecurity, instability, and political incohesiveness.” There are several more articles that regulate expression, including a provision that would punish online expression that incites or instigates prejudice based on political views. This last provision will most likely be used to punish those critical of the actions of the ruling party.