Cambodia: ongoing misuse of law to silence opponents further deepens impunity and undermines the rule of law

Cambodia is “weaponizing” the law and relying on judges and prosecutors who lack independence to silence dissent and dismantle democracy, says the ICJ in a report released today.

The release of the report Achieving Justice for Gross Human Rights Violations in Cambodia follows Monday’s unanimous decision of the National Assembly, attended only by law-makers from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), to amend four election laws which would redistribute parliamentary seats held by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to several minor parties in the event of the CNRP’s dissolution.

A Senior Cambodian CPP law-maker, Cheam Yeap, was reported as saying that the amendments were made “especially for the treasonous acts of the president of the CNRP, Kem Sokha, who committed treason in a red-handed crime.”

“These amendments are the latest in a long line of instances where the Government has shamelessly passed or amended laws with the specific purpose of legally harassing perceived opponents or weakening representative democracy within the country,” said Kingsley Abbott, Senior International Legal Adviser at the ICJ’s regional office in Bangkok.

Also of concern is that the Government is increasingly defending its actions by claiming it is merely applying the rule of law.

In a statement released by the Permanent Mission of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva on Monday, the Government claimed that “Prosecuting and punishing offenders by legitimate authorities, for the interest of justice, should not be read as a menace to democracy and human rights, but rather as an enforcement of the rules of law…upholding the rules of law means holding perpetrators accountable for their conducts”.

“The ‘rule of law’ is not only about passing and implementing laws, but rather ensuring they are drafted and applied in accordance with international human rights law and without discrimination, including discrimination based on political or other opinion,” added Abbott.

The ICJ’s report, which is being released against the backdrop of a rapidly deteriorating human rights situation, records that the “single largest problem facing the Cambodian justice system is the lack of independent and impartial judges and prosecutors,” which includes “an endemic system of political interference in high-profile cases and an equally entrenched system of corruption in all others”.


Kingsley Abbott, Senior International Legal Adviser, ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Office, t: +66 94 470 1345, e:

Alex Conte, ICJ Global Redress and Accountability Initiative, t: +41 79 957 2733; e: alex.conte(a)


On 3 September 2017, the leader of the CNRP, Kem Sokha, was arrested in a raid at his home and taken away by more than 100 policemen.

On 5 September 2017, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court formally charged Kem Sokha under Article 443 of the Cambodian Penal Code for alleged ‘collusion’ with foreign actors to “cause chaos” in Cambodia, otherwise known as treason.

On 6 October 2017, the Ministry of Interior filed a request to the Supreme Court to seek the dissolution of the CNRP pursuant to the Law on Political Parties, which was amended twice in 2017, and allows for the Supreme Court to dissolve political parties in certain circumstances including if one of the leadership is convicted of a crime.

The amendments to the four election laws would also mean that at the district and commune levels, in places where the CPP received the next highest number of votes, vacant seats would be redistributed to the CPP.


Cambodia-GRA Baseline Study-Publications-Reports-Thematic reports-2017-ENG (full report in PDF)

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