Opposition lawmakers walked out during Monday’s debate over an amendment to Article 51, stifling any chance for a vote and warning that the measure would only intensify “impunity” for government officials.
The protest by 11 Sam Rainsy Party members eventually closed the National Assembly for lack of a two-thirds quorum. As they left, they decried the amendment that would allow government employees to be arrested, but only 72 hours after their superiors are informed of the alleged offense.
Article 51, dubbed by human rights groups as “the impunity law,” says the judiciary cannot arrest ministerial employees, including soldiers and police, who are suspected of committing a crime—until after permission from the employee’s superiors.
CPP Assembly lawmaker and Finance Minister Keat Chhon was angered by Monday’s move. “This [walk-out] is a trick that greatly reduces the rule of law…those members of parliament are trying to hurt the rule of law and a national effort toward administrative reform,” he said angrily in Assembly chambers shortly after the walk-out.
Opposition lawmakers said the move was necessary to show that the amendment goes “against the spirit of a constitution” that recognizes all people as equal.
Party leader Sam Rainsy said the measure would protect a privileged few. “There must be equal rights between all people as dictated by the constitution. No special right is given to government employees,” he said.
“Big criminals in the government, they have impunity, but small people are ill-treated,” he added.
Funcinpec lawmaker Keo Remy joined concern over the amendment, saying “this law can leave a big hole for criminals.”
But CPP Assembly member Chhuor Leang Huot said the amendment does not violate the constitution.
“Government employees have a duty and obligation to be responsible,” he said, arguing that the measure would give more leeway to investigate and arrest offenders employed by the government.
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