PHNOM PENH�Cambodia�s top judicial authority has summarily removed two Phnom Penh judges without holding any hearings, as the law requires, RFA�s Khmer service reports. One of the judges, Hing Thirith, says he was removed because of his rulings from the bench, many of which have gone against Prime Minister Hun Sen�s government.
The Supreme Council of Magistracy met Monday and sacked Phnom Penh Court judges Hing Thirith and Oun Bunna. Both judges were told privately by a member of the Council, who has requested anonymity.
The Supreme Council of Magistracy, which is chaired by King Sihanouk, comprises nine members including the King, Minister of Justice, Chief of the Supreme Court, General Prosecutor of the Supreme Court, Chief of the Appellate Court, General Prosecutor of the Appellate Court, and three members selected by a group of Cambodian judges.
�I do not know why they removed me,� Oun Bunna told RFA. �According to the court�s procedures, the disciplinary council or Supreme Council of Magistracy must discuss mistakes with a judge and hold a hearing. That way the judge can defend himself. But they did not follow these rules,� he said.
Under Cambodian law, the Council of Magistracy must send a letter recommending the removal of a judge to King Sihanouk, who is currently visiting China, through the Ministry of Justice. The King must then sign a royal decree before the decision may take effect.
According to Article 11, Chapter 2 of a document titled �Law of Organization and Function of the Supreme Council of Magistracy,�the Council shall decide and raise its recommendation to the King's attention about appointments, transfers, or disruption in actual service, suspensions of job, and removal of cadre or title for all judges and prosecutors. It also provides recommendations for rank promotions for all judges and prosecutors.� While it is likely the two judges will be transferred to another court, it is not yet known where they will be transferred to.
An official at the Council of Magistracy said general secretary Rel Moun was too busy to comment on the removal of the two judges.
The second judge, Hing Thirith, said in an interview that he believes his rulings prompted his dismissal. �This is unacceptable, � he said. �I will write a letter to King Sihanouk to protest the decision,� Hing Thirith told RFA�s Khmer service. �I think I have handled many controversial cases, which has made a very powerful person upset and angry with me, so they decided to deal with me this way.�
Hing Thirith cited four controversial cases over which he has presided that could have prompted his removal.
�Before the July 2003 national election, I allowed opposition leader Sam Rainsy to meet with one of his activists who had been arrested by police for handing out campaign leaflets. Later I was blamed by an unnamed powerful government officer who asked me why I cared so much for the opposition,� Hing Thirith said.
Other headline-grabbing cases on Hing Thirith�s docket include the conviction this month of Prime Minister Hun Sen�s nephew Nim Sophea for involvement in a shooting that left at least two people dead, the reinstatement of an opposition-linked radio station manager , and release of two men suspected of killing prominent labor leader Chea Vichea .
�With all of these big cases, I received a lot of blame from top government officials who made me very frustrated. I am still waiting to receive a royal decree from the King so I can leave my job, but I don�t know when that will happen,� Hing Thirith said.
�This kind of removal without reason and transparency will become a serious threat to other judges who work independently of outside influence�otherwise the Council of Magistracy is merely seen as a tool of Cambodia�s powerful leader,� Sok Sam-oeun, director of the free legal assistance program the Cambodian Defenders Project, told RFA.
Cambodia�s judiciary was eradicated in the 1970s during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Since then, Cambodia has painstakingly attempted to rebuild a system that is devoid of corruption and vulnerability. According the U.S. State Department�s 2003 Human Rights Report, �Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, in practice the [Cambodian] judiciary was frequently subject to legislative and executive influence and suffered from corruption.� #####