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Cambodia: Whistleblower Law Being Drafted

(Jan. 9, 2018) Om Yentieng, the head of Cambodia’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), speaking on December 25, 2017, stated that the drafting of a law on the protection of whistleblowers and witnesses is nearly complete. (Phak Seangly, Cambodia: Whistleblower Law Nearly Done: ACU, PHNOM PENH POST ONLINE (Dec. 26, 2017), Open Source Enterprise, Document No. SER2017122707534238.) The law has been in the planning process since November 2014 and is intended in part to make national laws comply with the UN Convention Against Corruption, which Cambodia acceded to in 2007. (Chhay Channyda & Zoe Holman, Whistleblower Law in the Works, ACU Says, PHNOM PENH POST (Oct. 2, 2015); Signature and Ratification Status (as of Oct. 3, 2017), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) website; United Nations Convention Against Corruption (Oct. 31, 2003, in force from Dec. 14, 2005), UNODC website.)

According to the ACU, the draft is 90% complete and will next be sent to the Justice Ministry for consultation on the penalty provisions. Once the Ministry completes its review, the draft will go to the National Assembly. (Seangly, supra.) The law is designed to provide immunity from civil or criminal liability, as well as protection and confidentiality, to whistleblowers. (Id.) These protections have been considered especially important by the ACU for witnesses in drug abuse, terrorism, and human trafficking cases. (Channyda & Holman, supra.)

Background 

The nongovernmental organization Transparency International (TI) has criticized Cambodia in the past and now welcomes the draft legislation. TI’s Pech Pisey stated in 2015 that whistleblowers faced “significant risks” and added that defamation provisions in the Penal Code made individuals “hesitant to report and/or be a witness of [sic] corruption cases or any other criminal cases due to the fear of retaliation, fines and possibly imprisonment.” (Id.; Penal Code, 2009, arts. 305-310, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime website.) The separate anti-corruption law also contains anti-defamation provisions, adding a risk to whistleblowers. That law punishes “defamation or disinformation” connected with corruption complaints that “lead to useless inquiry” with one to six months of imprisonment and a fine of one to ten million riel (about US$246-2,460). (Draft Law on Anti-Corruption (as adopted Jan. 17, 2010, last amended Aug. 4, 2017), art. 41, OPEN DEVELOPMENT CAMBODIA (bilingual version, click on “download” for English or Khmer).)

For his part, Om Yentieng noted that TI had not provided needed technical assistance and ranked Cambodia low on its global transparency scale (Seangly, supra.)

Commenting in 2015, attorney Sok Sam Oeun said that a new law could also make it easier to indict corrupt officials. He stated, “[i]n the current system, in any investigation by the government, the court always accepts the word of officials as the truth. … Often, people want to give information to the ACU, but they are concerned and scared to see the accused.” (Channyda & Holman, supra.)