Cambodia’s police, judiciary must be independent, rights groups say

The demand comes on the heels of last week’s visit from a U.N. monitor.
By RFA Khmer
Cambodia’s police, judiciary must be independent, rights groups say Police officials stand guard outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, August 18, 2021.

Cambodian rights groups on Monday threw their support behind a recommendation of a U.N. monitor that the country do more to ensure the independence of its judiciary system.

“The Cambodian government has stated its commitment to reform the judiciary and the law, but the actual reform remains to be seen,” Am Sam Ath, deputy director for the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, told RFA’s Khmer Service Monday. “There is no progress yet.”

Vitit Muntarbhorn, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Cambodia, released a list of 10 recommendations after wrapping up an 11-day fact-finding visit to the country on Friday. They included greater separation between law enforcement and the judiciary from the governing party “to ensure their independence and impartiality.” 

Cambodia’s leader, Hun Sen, in 2017 had the country’s Supreme Court dissolve the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), paving the way for his ruling Cambodian People’s Party to claim every seat in the country’s National Assembly in the 2018 general election. 

“This has led to systemic control by the powers-that-be, leading to political and other distortions undermining the call for a pluralistic democracy,” Muntarbhorn’s statement said.

Law enforcement and the judiciary are not independent or impartial, and this has resulted in activists going into hiding or exile or winding up in prison, Soeung Senkaruna, spokesperson for the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, told RFA.

“I’m sure [the recommendations] will have influence on the international community. When they find such flaws and [the government] does not accept his recommendations and does not change anything, this will affect them,” he said.

“We are concerned that there may be measures or pressure from the international community as they can refer to the report found by the special rapporteur. Therefore, we should not overlook this report,” Soeung Senkaruna said.

Cambodia is no stranger to international pressure. The European Union in August 2020 suspended tariff-free access to its market under the Everything But Arms scheme for around one-fifth of Cambodia’s exports, citing rollbacks in Cambodia on democracy and human rights.

National Assembly spokesman Leng Penglong said that the assembly would review the U.N. special rapporteur's recommendations once it officially received them.

Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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