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

800-Pound Man Determined to Slim Down

Man says he was kicked out of hospital for ordering pizza; wants to be an actor More

Australia Prepares to Resettle 12,000 Syrian Refugees

Preference will be given to refugees from persecuted minorities, and the first group is expected to arrive before late December More

S. African Miners Seek Class Action Suit Against Gold Mines

The estimated 100,000 say say they contracted the lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis in the mines More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs