News / Asia

Legal Experts: Cambodia Judicial Laws of 'Deep Concern'

U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, speaking in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 15, 2014. (Robert Carmichael/VOA)
U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, speaking in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 15, 2014. (Robert Carmichael/VOA)
Robert Carmichael

International legal experts are expressing deep concern over proposed changes to Cambodia’s legal system that critics say hand over too much power to the executive.  At a meeting in Phnom Penh Tuesday, a group recommended the three judicial reform laws should be returned to parliament for further discussion. The proposed legislation is currently with Cambodia’s king awaiting his signature to become law. 

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, told attendees at Tuesday’s meeting that the three laws on judicial reform undermined the principle of the separation of powers, and called on Cambodia’s constitutional monarch not to sign them, and to send them back to parliament to ensure public input.
 
“My request is in the sense that these laws, if they are enacted, there is a high level of chance that a lot of amendments should be done. So it’s a kind of anticipation - instead of signing these laws, he could send these laws again to the parliament, and restart the process with open debate as the government has done in many different kinds of laws in Cambodia,” she said.
 
The three draft judicial reform laws recently flew through parliament, the senate and the scrutiny of the Constitutional Council, before ending up on the desk of the king. Once he signs them, they will become law.
 
But the laws’ numerous critics say they are fundamentally flawed. They say they not only run counter to Cambodia’s Constitution, which guarantees the independence of the judiciary, they also conflict with Cambodia’s commitments to an independent judiciary as enshrined in legal instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
 
Knaul, a Brazilian judge who has been the U.N. Special Rapporteur since 2009, explained that the three laws could have a big impact on the Cambodian legal system.
 
“They deal with the structure of the court - how it works, how it should function, what are the borderlines between the powers, what kind of guarantees the beneficiaries of the justice system should have. This kind of law regulates the appointments process, the transfers, suspension, [and] disciplinary proceedings against judges. It deals with matters relating to enhancing transparency, the accountability of the judicial system. It defines and makes clear what’s the role of judges and the prosecutors in order to avoid confusion on the roles of each one,” she said.
 
The key failing is that they hand significant power to the executive; not least to the minister of justice and senior ministry staff, giving them wide-ranging powers in such key areas as budgets, complaints, promotions, and the removal or punishment of judges and prosecutors. In short, the laws would provide the executive a free hand to interfere in the judiciary.
 
Nadia Hardman is the program lawyer at the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association, or IBA, a British-based non-profit that supports the independence of the judiciary.
 
The IBA, which hosted Tuesday’s news conference, expressed its “deep concern over controversial judicial reforms, which could provide an excessive transfer of power from the judiciary to the executive”.
 
Hardman said codifying executive control into primary legislation over the judiciary created a series of documents that could, in theory, be used to enact future abuses. Those problems, she added, were eminently avoidable.
 
“If you’re going to formalize what goes on at a judicial level, especially in this day and age when there are so many best practice standards, or so many guidelines, there are so many initiatives at the U.N. and the regional level, countries have model legislation to draw upon - and at the moment you should really be relying on those best practice standards,” she said.
 
Piseth Duch is the trial monitoring coordinator at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, or CCHR, a local non-profit that has advocated extensively on judicial reform.
 
With the law on the verge of being signed, he says the way forward now lies in continuing to try to talk to the government, and in establishing strategies with other civil society organizations to tackle the issue together.
 
“And also keep following up closely on the implementation of these laws when they pass into law soon, and then we can document the issues or cases that violate the independence of the judiciary, and then we can call with the evidence-based documents to call for the amendment in the future - because if the government is willing to make the judiciary purely independent, it will be a good starting point for the Cambodian people as a whole,” said Duch.
 
For its part, the Cambodian government says it is satisfied with the provisions of the law.

You May Like

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

Comment Sorting
Comment on this forum (1)
Comments
     
by: Frankie Fook-lun Leung from: Los Angeles
July 15, 2014 2:50 PM
It is inconceivable that the Cambodian government could accept the western sense of judicial independence based on separation of power. Other emergent nations face similar problems, to a different degree.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid