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Resolution adopted unanimously by the IPU Governing Council at its 186th session
(Bangkok, 1 April 2010)

The Governing Council of the Inter-Parliamentary Union,

Referring to the case of Ms. Mu Sochua, a member of the National Assembly of Cambodia, as outlined in the report of the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians (CL/186/12(b)-R.1), and to the resolution adopted at its 185th session (October 2009),

Noting that, at the session it held during the 122nd Assembly, the Committee met with the leader of the Cambodian delegation,

Recalling the following:

  • Ms. Mu Sochua's parliamentary immunity was lifted on 22 June 2009 to allow a defamation lawsuit brought against her by Prime Minister Hun Sen to proceed; the Prime Minister had earlier called upon the Assembly to lift her immunity and stated that this would be as easy as "ABC"; the procedure applied was as follows: emergency rules were applied to prevent the public, the diplomatic corps, civil society and the media from attending the session; the sound system allowing television coverage was disconnected so that the session was not broadcast as usual; the Speaker did not allow time for Ms. Mu Sochua to defend herself, although she had asked to speak, and the vote went ahead without a debate; moreover, heavily armed military police were reportedly posted outside the parliament building; the parliamentary authorities affirm that the procedure applied was in accordance with the Standing Orders, including the holding of a closed session as the necessary number of parliamentarians had so requested;

  • The Prime Minister's lawsuit was brought one day after Ms. Mu Sochua had announced in a press conference, held on 23 April 2009, that she would bring a defamation lawsuit against him for insulting statements he had made about her in a speech in her province, qualifying her inter alia as a woman gangster or a prostitute; the Prime Minister also brought a lawsuit against her lawyer, who, after having been accused by the Cambodian Bar Association of breaching the Code of Ethics, apologized to the Prime Minister, declined to present Ms. Mu Sochua's defence, joined the majority party and had the charges against him withdrawn; on 10 June 2009, Phnom Penh Municipal Court rejected Ms. Mu Sochua's lawsuit against the Prime Minister for lack of evidence and the decision was upheld on appeal;

  • On 4 August 2009, Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Ms. Mu Sochua guilty under Article 63 of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC law) Criminal Provisions of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen by: (i) holding a press conference to announce that she would file a defamation lawsuit against the Prime Minister, (ii) informing the IPU and the Global Fund for Women of the matter, (iii) affirming that the Prime Minister's words against her "affected all Khmer women and women all over the world", all of which showed that she had acted in bad faith with the intention of defaming the Prime Minister worldwide and sullying his reputation and dignity;

  • The parliamentary authorities have affirmed that the trial was fair, stating that the evidence presented during the trial, namely the press conference and her letters to the Global Fund for Women and to the IPU, was not challenged and that Ms. Mu Sochua presented no witnesses; the Court had respected its duty to find out the truth, and the alleged threat of the disbarment of her lawyer was related not to his being selected as counsel by Ms. Mu Sochua but to his violation of the Code of Ethics; he had apologized for those violations and his withdrawal was his own decision and could not be considered a denial of Ms. Mu Sochua's right to counsel of her choice; in the view of the parliamentary authorities, the court had respected due process, examined all the evidence presented and identified the offence, namely a bad-faith allegation and imputation which harmed the honour and reputation of the Prime Minister; in their response to the IPU's trial observer report, the parliamentary authorities stated that "the Court simply exercised its judicial responsibilities in litigation between two individuals, applying current laws of the Kingdom",
Considering that, in October 2009, the Appeal Court upheld the first-instance verdict, and that Ms. Mu Sochua has lodged an appeal in the Supreme Court which is still pending,

Recalling that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Cambodia issued a statement on 5 August 2009 in response to the guilty verdict in Ms. Mu Sochua's case, in which it emphasized the need to uphold the constitutional right to freedom of expression in Cambodia and pointed out that, under international law, freedom of expression is to be restricted only in exceptional cases, where clearly necessary and proportionate to the value that the restriction seeks to protect, and appealed to the Cambodian judiciary to take full account of constitutional and international standards when considering defamation cases; the OHCHR also recalled that, in July 2007, the Constitutional Court had directed all Cambodian courts to take into account international human rights standards, as contained in the treaties to which Cambodia was a party, when considering such cases,

Considering that the leader of the Cambodian delegation provided the following information and observations: no soldiers or police were in the National Assembly during the lifting of Ms. Mu Sochua's parliamentary immunity; her case is now pending before the court and it is necessary to await completion of the proceedings; she could have paid the fine, as advised by colleagues, and the case would have been over; however, she chose to appeal and to go before the Supreme Court; she herself is responsible for this situation as she brought the complaint against the Prime Minister accusing him of something he had not done; the Prime Minister counter-attacked and the Court found that there was no evidence to support her claim; however, there was evidence to support the Prime Minister's claim of defamation, namely the press conference she held and the publication of the letters she wrote to the IPU and another organization, not the letters as such but only their publication,

Bearing in mind finally that, in his report on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia (A/HRC/12/40/Corr.1), referring in particular to the series of defamation and disinformation charges filed by or on behalf of the Government against opposition members and other critics, mentioning particularly the case of Ms. Mu Sochua, expressed concern that this trend, "if allowed to continue, could seriously undermine the exercise of the constitutional right to freedom of expression, which is essential to effective media freedom, pluralism, diversity and democratic debate", and noting that, in his response (A/HRC/12/G/11) to the statement made by the Special Rapporteur during the Universal Periodic Review process of Cambodia that "some of the core political rights such as freedom of expression and peaceful assembly had been undermined in Cambodia", the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Cambodia stated that, on the contrary, the Cambodian people had largely enjoyed that right which, in accordance with Article 19 (para. 3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), carries with it special duties and responsibilities such as the respect of the rights or reputation of others and that "like any other democratic country, Cambodia cannot allow the proliferation of voluntary public defamation and disinformation intended to create social disorder, which is detrimental to the well-being of the entire society and the dignity of all citizens",

  1. Thanks the leader of the Cambodian delegation for the information and observations he shared with the Committee; considers, however, that his arguments are not such as to enable it to alter its position regarding this case;

  2. Observes that the responsibilities and duties under Article 19, paragraph 3, of the ICCPR are incumbent on everyone, including the Prime Minister, who also must respect the right to reputation of others, and reaffirms that Ms. Mu Sochua, by bringing a defamation lawsuit against him, holding a press conference to announce this and informing the IPU and the Global Fund for Women of the matter, was merely exercising her right to defend her reputation, as guaranteed under Article 19, paragraph 3, of the ICCPR;

  3. Observes that it is difficult, if not impossible, to admit that this was litigation between two equal individuals, if only because the Prime Minister called on the National Assembly to lift Ms. Mu Sochua's immunity, stating that this would be an easy task and even indicated that she might lose her parliamentary seat; fears that such statements made by a head of government gravely affect not only the independence of parliament and its members but also the independence of the judiciary, and undermine freedom of expression in general;

  4. Remains deeply concerned that: (a) there appears to be no instance of the courts having seriously examined whether or not the Prime Minister's statement targeting Ms. Mu Sochua was defamatory, but instead quickly dismissed her lawsuit and proceeded with the Prime Ministers lawsuit; (b) the courts did not examine and put forward any arguments to sustain their view that Ms. Mu Sochua acted in bad faith when she held a press conference and wrote letters to the IPU and the Global Fund for Women and how that could have damaged the Prime Minister's reputation, and (c) they did not, as they should have done, examine evidence not only against Ms. Mu Sochua but also in her favour;

  5. Cannot accept under any circumstances that a letter to the IPU, whether publicized or not, should be used as an argument against Ms. Mu Sochua, particularly since the IPU has put in place a procedure designed to examine such communications, and points out that, in the final analysis, such action may render ineffective the right of everyone to seek the assistance of international organizations in human rights matters; calls once again on the National Assembly, as a Member of the IPU, and in particular the parliamentary authorities, to bring this argument to bear to the best of their ability;

  6. Remains deeply concerned at the way in which the National Assembly lifted Ms. Mu Sochua's parliamentary immunity, and stresses in this respect once again the following: while the National Assembly may have followed the procedure, it had not borne in mind the purpose of parliamentary immunity, which is to protect the independence of parliament by protecting its members from possibly unfounded legal proceedings; this presupposes, as the IPU has consistently recommended, a careful scrutiny by parliament of the request for the lifting of immunity, an open parliamentary debate during which the member of parliament concerned has the right to defend himself/herself and a secret vote ensuring that members can vote in line with their conscience and not along political party lines; these basic rules appear not to have been respected in this case; wishes to ascertain in particular why the Assembly decided to hold a closed session, why it did not allow Ms. Mu Sochua to present her defence and did not hold a debate on the issue, and why it did not decide to hold a secret ballot;

  7. Remains hopeful that, in conformity with the directive issued by the Cambodian Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court will rule on Ms. Mu Sochua's case in accordance with the international human rights obligations which Cambodia is bound to respect and hence will ensure respect for core democratic values, including freedom of expression; requests the Secretary General to ensure the presence of an international observer at the hearing before the Supreme Court;

  8. Requests the Secretary General to forward this resolution to the authorities, to Ms. Mu Sochua and to the OHCHR in Cambodia;

  9. Requests the Committee to continue examining this case and report to it at its next session, to be held on the occasion of the 123rd IPU Assembly (October 2010), when it hopes to be able to close this case owing to its satisfactory settlement.
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