Friday, January 28, 2011

IPU Decision in SRP MP Mu Sochua's immunity

SRP MP Mu Sochua (Photo: RFI)


Decision adopted by the Committee at its 132nd session
(Geneva, 17 - 20 January 2011)

The Committee,

Referring to the case of Ms. Mu Sochua, a member of the National Assembly of Cambodia, and to the resolution adopted by the Governing Council at its 187th session (October 2010),

Recalling the following: Ms. Sochua’s public announcement that she would bring a defamation lawsuit against Prime Minister Hun Sen for a speech he made in April 2009 alluding to her in a derogatory and insulting manner resulted in the Prime Minister filing a defamation lawsuit against her; while her defamation lawsuit against the Prime Minister was quickly dismissed, the Prime Minister’s lawsuit proceeded; in June 2009, the National Assembly decided to lift her parliamentary immunity in a closed session by a show of hands, without having given Ms. Sochua an opportunity to be heard; in August 2009, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found her guilty and sentenced her to a heavy fine, a verdict which, in June 2010, was upheld in last instance by the Supreme Court; the courts, which based their arguments inter alia on a letter Ms. Sochua had written to the IPU, failed to establish the existence of the elements that constituted the offence of defamation and, in particular, to examine how Ms. Sochua’s actions could have harmed the Prime Minister’s reputation; Ms. Sochua stated that she would not pay the fine, in which case, according to Cambodian law, she would have had to serve a prison term; however, it was decided that the fine would be deducted from her MP’s salary,

Considering that in November 2010 the fine was paid off in full, but that her parliamentary immunity has still not been restored,

Bearing in mind that United Nations human rights bodies and mechanisms have expressed concern about the independence of the judiciary in Cambodia and "noted with concern the … lack of judicial independence and effectiveness" as well as the judiciary's inability to “effectively restrain executive power"1; most recently the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, who in his report to the United Nations Human Rights Council of 16 September 20102 identified freedom of expression as a major cause for concern, along with the numerous challenges faced by the judiciary, expressed concern about the narrowing of political space, and recommended that defamation and disinformation be decriminalized altogether,

Mindful that Article 31 of the Constitution of Cambodia stipulates that the rights and freedoms of citizens include the “human rights as stipulated in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the human rights covenants and conventions and those on women’s and children’s rights; that, moreover, Articles 41, 39, 31 and 45 of the Constitution respectively guarantee freedom of expression, the right of Khmer citizens to denounce public officials for breaches of the law committed while performing their duties, and equality before the law, and prohibits discrimination against women, and that Article 46 explicitly prohibits obscenity against women,
  1. Recalls that, in the case of Mr. Ho Vann, the parliamentary authorities reported in October 2009, that restoring parliamentary immunity was not automatic but required a meeting of the National Assembly’s Permanent Committee, which submits the matter to the plenary which, in turn, restores parliamentary immunity;
  2. Affirms that with the payment of the fine two months ago, the defamation case is now closed and that consequently, Ms. Sochua is entitled to have her parliamentary immunity restored; earnestly hopes that the National Assembly will do so without any further delay and would appreciate receiving confirmation thereof as a matter of urgency;
  3. Expresses the earnest hope that the parliamentary authorities will take action to ensure that cases such as this one, where a letter to the IPU was used to convict a member of parliament who had merely exercised her right to freedom of expression, do not recur;
  4. also hopes that they will take action to amend the procedure for the lifting of parliamentary immunity in such a way as to ensure respect for the rights of the parliamentarians concerned to be heard in an open session and the decision to be taken by secret ballot;
  5. Reiterates its call on the Cambodian authorities to heed the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia; invites the Parliament of Cambodia once again to debate his report in parliament and to take the necessary measures to ensure implementation of his recommendations;
  6. Requests the Secretary General to convey this decision to the parliamentary authorities, inviting them once again to respond to the questions it has consistently raised regarding the way in which Ms. Sochua’s parliamentary immunity was lifted;
  7. Decides to continue examining this case at its next session, to be held during the 124th IPU Assembly (April 2011).


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