Cambodia has launched a new campaign to reduce backlogs and pending cases in provincial and municipal courts as a first step in a reform of the country’s judicial system, Cambodia’s justice minister said on Monday.
The campaign, which will run from six to nine months, is aimed at clearing the cases of up to 40,000 detainees now packed into overcrowded cells so that new cases can be brought, Minister of Justice Kouet Rith told reporters at a press conference in Phnom Penh.
The Justice Ministry will only provide logistical help and support to the courts, and will not interfere in the work of prosecutors and judges in conducting the trials, Kouet Rith said.
“The Ministry will provide whatever technical and legal support and supplies that it can to assist in the campaign, but will leave work procedures up to the judges’ discretion,” he said, adding that the new campaign will be followed by further reforms.
Cases of corruption uncovered in the course of the campaign will be met with zero tolerance, Kouet Rith said.
“If any judge or court clerk recklessly violates the law of takes advantage of this campaign to further his own interests, their wrongdoing will be documented, and they will be firmly and absolutely held responsible for their actions,” he said.
“The Ministry wishes to declare that this is its absolute position,” he added, calling on local and international NGOs to support the Ministry and help the campaign succeed by not “interfering” with the courts’ work.
'Transparency will be important'
Civil society groups in Cambodia never interfere in the country’s judicial affairs, though, Am Sam Ath of the Cambodia-based human rights group Licadho told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“We only wish to see detainees’ case files expedited so that backlogs do not occur and their rights are not affected,” he said. “Transparency will be very important in this process so that justice can be served.”
The Ministry of Justice should look more closely into cases of unlawful arrest and detention by the police and in the courts, said Ny Sokha, an officer of the human rights group Adhoc and a former political prisoner himself.
“[All of this] should be properly and lawfully enforced so that detainees are treated fairly,” he said.
Cambodia placed 15th out of 15 countries surveyed in the East Asia and Pacific region for adherence to rule of law, according to a report released on March 11 by the World Justice Project, which also ranked the autocratic Southeast Asian state near the very bottom of its list of countries examined worldwide.
Examining constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, and the integrity of courts, among other factors, the WJP Rule of Law Index measures the rule-of-law performance of 128 countries around the world, the WJP said in its report.
Rights groups in Cambodia and around the world have widely condemned the use by Cambodia’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party of the country’s courts to jail and harass journalists and members of political opposition groups.
They have also accused top government figures and their family members of profiting from illegal logging and the seizure of land for commercial development.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Richard Finney.