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

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine 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.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid