Cambodia’s emergency powers: Combating Covid-19 or human rights?

In Cambodia, a recently passed bill has handed the government the ability to enact sweeping emergency powers during times of crisis. Is this simply a necessary move to combat the pandemic, or are fundamental human rights under threat?

World governments have changed the way they operate in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, with economies in hibernation, parliaments adjourned and daily life interrupted. Leaders have taken unprecedented steps to control the spread of the novel coronavirus, utilising emergency powers normally seen in wartime to shut down businesses and restrict social gatherings.

Government and public health authorities have argued that to stop the spread of Covid-19 some freedoms will have to be suspended to allow for a faster response to the virus, saving lives in the process. It is, however, delicate work for officials to successfully balance liberty and community safety.

On April 17, the Cambodian Senate ratified State of Emergency powers giving Prime Minister Hun Sen an enlarged armoury in the battle against Covid-19. The law, officially labelled the Law on Management of the Nation in State of Emergency, consists of five chapters and 12 articles, and is based on the new Article 22 of the constitution.

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