The new Law on Demonstrations : A terrible setback for freedom of assembly

Press release

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organizations in Cambodia, the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), express their deepest concern at the draft Law on Demonstrations adopted earlier this month by the National Assembly of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Freedom of assembly is currently regulated by the Law on Demonstrations of 1991, which requires the organizers of a peaceful protest to inform the authorities in advance. In practice, the authorities interpreted this law as requiring an express authorization before any demonstration can be organized. [1] In 2008, e.g., ADHOC reported that the authorities imposed restrictions on public demonstrations relating to land and natural resources conflicts, and workers’ rights. Of 155 peaceful strikes and demonstrations that took place last year, 108 (70%) were suppressed forcibly by the armed forces. In addition, the authorities often refused to authorize demonstrations, or delayed granting authorization for demonstrations shortly before they were due to take place. Unauthorized strikes and demonstrations were suppressed by force.

Against this background of abuse of the existing law, the replacement of current legislation by an even more restrictive law on demonstrations is worrying. The text has been adopted by the National Assembly without previous consultation with civil society, and the version submitted to Parliament for approval has not been made public or circulated beforehand. This opacity and lack of participatory and consultative mechanisms in the legislative process is in itself a cause of serious concern.

As regards the text of the law adopted this month, it represents a setback in relation to the existing legislation, which was already restrictively interpreted by the authorities.

Based on their analysis of the current text as adopted earlier this month by the National Assembly, FIDH, ADHOC and LICADHO call upon the Senate of the Kingdom of Cambodia to reject this text in its current form, and to propose amendments to the above-mentioned provisions so that the text be fully compliant with Cambodia’s international human rights obligations.

Since Cambodia will be examined under the Universal Periodic Review conducted by the UN Human Rights Council, on 1st December 2009, we call upon UN member states to raise this issue as a matter of priority with the Cambodian authorities.

Based on the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, the European Union should express its deep concern at this draft legislation as it stands, and call upon the Senate of Cambodia to reject the text, or significantly amend it.

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