“Every Khmer citizen shall be equal before the law” – Sunday, 16.8.2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 625
Article 31 of the Constitutioon of the Kingdom of Cambodia is one of the important reference texts which describe the legal basis for life in society:
- The Kingdom of Cambodia shall recognize and respect human rights as stipulated in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the covenants and conventions related to human rights, women’s and children’s rights.
- Every Khmer citizen shall be equal before the law, enjoying the same rights, freedom and fulfilling the same obligations regardless of race, colour, sex, language, religious belief, political tendency, birth origin, social status, wealth or other status.
- The exercise of personal rights and freedom by any individual shall not adversely affect the rights and freedom of others. The exercise of such rights and freedom shall be in accordance with law.
During the last couple of weeks, a number of confrontations led to court cases – some led to the imposition of monetary fines, some to imprisonments in jail – some cases are under appeal, some people withdrew their former statements or went abroad trying to avoid to have to face the court.
We did mirror also the wave of disappointments, criticism, and protests which have been reported in the media, including about the joint expression of critical concerns by representatives of several embassies and of the European Union. And we have mirrored the rejection of such criticism by representatives of the Royal Government of Cambodia. Among the different statements was also a call by the Prime Minister – in a speech at a graduation ceremony – not to deny him the right as a citizen who has, as everybody else, the right to ask a court to take legal action:
“Do you recognize that I am a citizen? Why do I lose my rights?”
While nobody will deny that high ranking representatives of the government have these same rights, criticism against the recent serious of legal actions when feeling defamed – perceived as intimidation and curtailing of the freedom of expression – continues in different ways. Some such criticism tries to reflect on the recent actions in view of the text of the Constitution, including with reference to the different international covenants and other agreements with which the Cambodian government has identified itself. But some of the concerns expressed may not even refer directly to legal text, but they are based on the perception that justice is not done.
We have repeatdly referred to the importance of perceptions in the public life of a society in The Mirror, starting with a report from Malaysia: “When Dato Seri Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi was inaugurated as Prime Minister of Malaysia in 2003, he pointed to the important role of perceptions held by the public – which may or may not conform to reality, but are nevertheless extremely important for the political situation of a country.” In the following elections in 2004, he won 92 % of the parliamentary seats, and with this support he announced plans for a new start in Malaysia: delivering reforms to create a clean, incorruptible, accountable, trustworthy, efficient, and people-oriented administration. But in April 2009, the public perception was that he had not succeeded with his vision of a renewed society, and he had to step back.
In spite of the assurances of the Constitution and of the reported statements in a Note by spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when he met a group of concerned diplomats mirrored last Wednesday, several events – maybe small events, not even the court cases – create the perception that we are still far away from a state of the rule of law. We mention some from last week:
- One Hundred and Seventy Disabled People Ask Samdech Hun Sen and the Provincial Governor to Remove the Head of the Department of Social Affairs [for taking the pension of disabled persons and retired veterans – Banteay Meanchey]
- The Chi Kraeng Forestry Chief Released Two Trucks Loaded with Kronhoung Luxury Wood in Exchange for US$1,000 [Siem Reap]
- Military Police Arrested a Drunken Man Who Pointed a Gun at Other People, but in the Morning Bodyguards [of an unknown high ranking official] Came to Intervene to Release Him [Phnom Penh]
- Communities Suffering from Land Disputes from 19 Provinces Come to Lodge Complaints at Different National Institutions
- Forestry Administration Chief Scolds Provincial Authorities Countrywide over Forest Destruction
- The Minister of Justice Calls to Be More Careful, Not to Lose Case Documents, and Not to Impose Overly Harsh Jail Sentences
- Civil Society Said that Courts in Cambodia Sentence Poor People without Defense Lawyers
- New Dragon Bridge of the Council of Ministers Worth More Than US$2 Million Was Demolished though It Had Never Been Used – [no clear explanations given for the destruction, and for a plan to construct a separate office building – contradicting information about position in national budget – Chinese loan or grant of US$32.9 million? – chairperson of the construction committee does not want do share information, but the spokesperson of the Coucil of Ministers refers cournalists’ questions to the chair of the construction committee. However, a Chinese source explains that US$35 million was granted to Cambodia. And the Prime Minister had previously praised the Chinese government for granting unconditional aid, different form the annual Donors’ Meeting grants of around US$500 million which come with conditions how to account for their use]
- The Prime Minister Calls On Drivers of Motorbikes That Have Not Paid Tax to Pay It at Police Stations – and – Within 11 Days, Police Stopped Nearly 10,000 Motorbike Drivers to Educate Them (but many big new luxury cars without license plates continue to drive unconcerned about being stopped past the police)
A state of law does not only mean that every Khmer citizen shall be equal before the law. It means also that every Khmer citizen shall be equal under the law, whatever the position and power in society may be.
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