The National Assembly’s Permanent Committee on Friday drafted and approved for debate a law that could see people imprisoned for up to two years for denying that war crimes took place under the Khmer Rouge.
The law took just four days to complete after Prime Minister Hun Sen called for the legislation to be drawn up on Monday.
The Denial of Genocide Committed in the Period of Democratic Kampuchea Law was cobbled together in a hastily arranged two-hour meeting on Friday in response to Mr. Hun Sen’s order, which was given after opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha allegedly claimed that atrocities committed at Toul Sleng prison were fabricated by the Vietnamese.
The law is to be debated at a specially convened session of the National Assembly next Friday, even though the legislative body is technically between its fourth and as-yet-unelected fifth mandates.
CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun, chairman of the Commission on Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation, Information and Media, said Friday that the law consists of five articles, and aims to prosecute those who deny that the Khmer Rouge committed genocide during their three years, eight months and 20 days in power.
He said it was not a tool to ensnare Mr. Sokha.
“I would like to clarify that this law has not been not created to prosecute Kem Sokha,” Mr. Vun said. “The establishment of this law is to prevent anyone from denying the existence of genocide in Cambodia.
“The law is to be implemented everywhere and for everybody, not to target Kem Sokha solely. It means that the law applies to all areas in Cambodia, not just S-21,” he continued, adding that to deny war crimes would cause chaos and he referred to Mr. Sokha as “a criminal of conscience.”
Those who flout the law face between six months and two years in prison, and fines of between 1 million riel to 2 million riel, or about $250 to $500.
“The scale of punishment will rely on how much she or he speaks and how big the audiences are,” Mr. Vun said. “It means the maximum penalty will be delivered for the denial of genocide in a public area with a crowd.”
Despite the speed with which the law was drawn up, Mr. Vun denied that CPP lawmakers had been pushed by their prime minister, Mr. Hun Sen, whose words have, very often, become law.
“Samdech Hun Sen did not order the creation of this law,” he said. “Of course, Samdech is the person who initiated the idea for lawmakers from the Cambodian People’s Party to propose this law,” he added.
SRP lawmaker and CNRP candidate Son Chhay said the lines are blurred between the parliamentary, executive and legislative branches of government.
“The situation in this country is that when the prime minister wants something, Parliament has its own independence and right to look into that request.
“But we are violating our Constitution all the way. We are supposed to have our independence. The parliamentary, executive and legislative branches should be independent from each other.
“But all these years, these important institutions have became tools of the prime minister…. Everybody knows Cambodia is a democracy, but we are run by a strongman and when he wants something, who dares to say no?”
Independent political analyst Lao Mong Hay said he doubted the urgency and efficacy of such a law, given that it was drafted so quickly.
“I question the urgency of the adoption of that law,” he said. “Is the country so in danger that we need to enact that law? I’m very doubtful.
“I am also very doubtful if such a law initiated on the spur of the moment would become a good law,” he added. “There is a need to keep cool and keep calm and look at the scope of the law—what to include and punish.”
Despite these concerns, Mr. Vun said he was confident that the law will pass when it is tabled next week.