A ministry of Justice working group is reviewing draft amendments to three conservation laws on forestry, fisheries, and protected areas.

The amendments to the Chapter of Legal Penalty are being made after an inter-ministerial submission on August 8, said ministry secretary of state and spokesman Chin Malin.

Malin said on August 14 that the ministry has a working group to review draft laws prepared by other ministries.

“After receiving the draft amendments to the laws on forestry, fisheries and protected areas, the ministry’s working group will review and comment on the relevant sections related to legal penalty.

“We cannot determine the duration of finishing for submission to the Cabinet for review and decision,” he said.

Malin confirmed that once draft laws reached his ministry, there normally only remained the processing procedure by its working group.

Pen Bonnar, senior programme officer at rights group ADHOC, said he hoped the amendments to the laws would further clarify and strengthen the obligations of citizens, police and public officials in their duty to protect and preserve natural resources.

“If these three laws were implemented effectively by judicial police officials everywhere, and if prosecutors’ offices in all provinces had implemented the existing laws, forest and natural resource offences would be prevented,” he said.

He noted that while the government had regularly issued warnings and declared a commitment to implementing activities to prevent crimes against the forest and natural resources, and to maintain sustainability, offences in forest areas, wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and coastal areas persisted.

“We see that impunity is serious, with no immediate legal action taken against suspects or the perpetrators who commit crimes.

“Despite the amendments to these three laws, past offences were subject to the statute of limitations under the Criminal Code to the penalties set out in the three [draft] laws,” Bonnar said.

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng chaired an inter-ministerial meeting on August 8 to prepare the draft amendments to the three laws.

The meeting was also attended by Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon, Minister of Environment Say Samal and justice minister Koeut Rith, as well as other senior inter-ministerial officials.

“The preparation of the draft amendments to the laws on forestry, fisheries and protected Areas at this time is in line with the … government policy.

“The preparation of the amendments also aims to align with decentralisation and deconcentration reforms to promote and enhance the responsibilities of the government at the sub-national level and the people in protecting, preserving and developing natural resources effectively and sustainably,” Sar Kheng said.

Agriculture minister Sakhon said the draft amendments had been reviewed and finalised after the inter-ministerial meeting at the interior ministry on August 8.

“They have been completed and handed over to the justice ministry to review on the provision of legal penalty,” he said.