COVID-19 Op-ed

Cambodia and its New Wave of the Law on the State of Emergency During the Covid-19

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Sophea TryStudent, Asia
Pacific MA Human Rights and Democratisation
Global Campus
of Human Rights Asia Pacific
Institute of Human Rights
and Peace Studies, Mahidol University

In Southeast Asia, many countries have experienced a
significant rise of confirmed coronavirus cases over the past weeks. In an
attempt to contain the spread of this global pandemic, Thailand and Indonesia
have declared a state of emergency. Meanwhile, in the Philippines, President
Rodrigo Duterre was also granted emergency powers to combat the pandemic. On
25 March 2020, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had also mentioned the
possible scenario of using Article 22 of the Constitution requesting King
Norodom Sihamoni to declare the state of emergency as well (Ouch, 2020). Then
on 31 March 2020, Cambodian government approved a draft law entitled “Law on
National Administration in the State of Emergency” (Aun, Sun, and Kann,
2020). The draft law needs to be adopted by the National Assembly and
reviewed by the Senate before submitted to the King for
promulgate.Since  the country was reunited in 1993, Cambodia does not
have a separate law on the state of emergency. None of us have ever imagined
that the law would be adapted during the fight against the invisible enemy,
the Covid-19. Although the Prime Minister has ensured that the law could only
be used when the situation is out of control, Cambodia is now ready to
welcome this new law (Ouch, 2020). Similar to the law of other countries,
this draft law allows the declaration of a state of emergency when the nation
faces danger such as war, foreign invasion, public health concerns caused by
pandemics, serious chaos to national security and public order and severe
calamity (Chheng, 2020). The draft law prescribes broad, and unfettered
powers to the government during a state of emergency that undermines a range
of fundamental rights, including freedom of association and assembly, freedom
of expression and information, freedom of movement, and right to property
(Chheng, 2020). It authorizes extraordinary powers to the government to
impose confinement, quarantine, concriptiona and evacuation. The state can
also manage, seize and handle properties when necessary to respond to the
emergency. It allows the state to set prices on necessities and services,
shut down public or private venues, conduct surveillance, prohibit
dissemination or information that may cause fear or social chaos. The
obstruction of the law’s implementation shall be punishable by a prison
sentence of between one and five years and a fine of up to five million riel.
For an obstruction that causes public chaos or harms national security is
subject between five to ten years imprisonment.While the implementation of
emergency law will lead to some human rights restriction, it is also a
concern that the government will take advantage of state of emergency to
introduce unwarranted restrictions on human rights and other fundamental
freedoms for other own-serving purposes that would be more difficult to
pursue under normal circumstances. Many of the most grave and systematic human
rights abuses occur during the public emergencies, when the state employs
extraordinary powers to address threats to public order. In Cambodia, the
draft law was prepared, reviewed, and then approved in a top-level meeting
led by the Prime Minister within one week. Civil societies and other NGOs
could not participate in the drafting process which brought the concern that
the law would be used as a tool to surpass human rights  in the country.
This law will be used as a legitimate tool to sweep the powers, and permits
human rights restrictions during the state of emergency since the government
is empowered to use additional powers to tackle the threat to protect the
people while curbing some individual rights in the interest of the wider
public.State of emergency can be declared when it presents a clear danger to
the life of the nation that cannot be adequately addressed with the normal
powers and resources available to a government. However, the current
situation in Cambodia is under control. As of  6 April 2020, the country
has reported 114 confirmed Covid cases with 53 people cured (Ministry of
Health, 2020). For this moment, Cambodia is not ready to declare a state of
emergency. Whether Cambodia will declare a state of emergency in the near
future or not, the government shall ensure that all measures taken must
respect the limits of human rights and fundamental freedoms provided and
guaranteed under the relevant instruments of international and national laws.
Certian rights such as right to life, probition of torture, freedom of
thought, the right to recognize before the law, etc. cannot be derogable
under any circumstances.References

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