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

Beijing Warns Hong Kong Protesters, Cracks Down at Home

In suppressing protest news, China reportedly has arrested more than 20 people on the mainland who acted in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters More

Competing Goals Could Frustrate Efforts to Fight Islamic State

As alliances shift and countries re-define themselves, analysts say long-standing goals of some key players in Middle East may soon compete with Western goals More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid