Cambodia: ICJ welcomes Oversight Board decision on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s violent speech on Facebook

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) welcomed the decision of the Oversight Board calling on Meta to immediately suspend Cambodian Prime Minister’s Hun Sen’s Facebook page and Instagram account for six months, in response to his posting of a video on 9 January with statements of intent to commit violence.

In the video, the Prime Minister threatened his political opponents that his party members would beat them up and they must choose between the “legal system” and “a bat”.

The ICJ had submitted a public comment to the Oversight Board in the case, emphasizing the responsibility of Meta to moderate content on its platforms in line with international human rights law and standards, as reflected in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

“This decision sends a clear message that political leaders do not enjoy higher protections for any incitement to violence by virtue of their status alone, as the same rules must apply to all users,” said Daron Tan, ICJ Associate International Legal Adviser.

“As the Oversight Board rightfully underscored, political leaders situated in positions of authority and influence will have a greater propensity to cause harm due to their influence. This is especially so given the overall context of the poor human rights situation and democratic deficit in Cambodia in the lead-up to the July 2023 election,” he added.

The Oversight Board is an expert body established by, but independent from Meta, whose decisions Meta considers to be binding.

In the decision, the Oversight Board recommended that Meta immediately suspend Hun Sen’s Facebook and Instagram page for six months given the “severity of the violation, Hun Sen’s history of committing human rights violations and intimidating political opponents, as well as his strategic use of social media to amplify such threats”.

In arriving at this decision, the Oversight Board cited the ICJ’s concerns over the mass convictions of opposition party leaders on spurious charges and weaponization of laws that are non-compliant with human rights law and standards.

The Oversight Board also recommended Meta update its “newsworthiness” allowance policy to state that content that directly incites violence is not eligible for a newsworthiness allowance, subject to existing policy exceptions.

“As the ICJ emphasized in our public comment, discretionary exception should generally not be available for forms of expression that are prohibited under international human rights law, such as expression inciting violence. The Board’s recommendation to Meta will help ensure more consistent and transparent applications of this “newsworthiness” exception, which has been fraught with ambiguity and opacity,” added Tan.

The ICJ stresses that online platforms like Facebook should be available for persons to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and participation in public affairs, without undue restrictions or limitations. One of the very few limitations that is mandatory, however, is the disallowance of incitement to violence. It is especially critical to impose a restriction where there is a strong risk that the inciting words of a powerful actor like a Prime Minister may be acted upon.

To read this decision in English, click here.

To read this decision in Khmer, click here.


Daron Tan, ICJ Associate International Legal Adviser, e:

Further reading

ICJ, “Cambodia: ICJ submits public comment to Oversight Board on the case of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s violent speech on Facebook”, 29 March 2023

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