The Cambodian Bar Association has refuted a scathing critique of its independence and ethics by the International Bar Association (IBA) that questioned Cambodia’s membership in the global group, calling the assessment an unfounded “insult.”
Following a visit to the country by a team of legal experts, the IBA’s Human Rights Institute last week issued a report on Cambodia’s judicial system accusing the local bar association of favoring unqualified CPP-affiliated candidates for membership, letting the CPP manipulate leadership votes, and taking bribes in exchange for places in training programs.
Among the report’s recommendations is a review of the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia’s membership to the IBA.
Last week, Cambodian Bar director Bun Honn declined to comment on the report because he had not read it. On Friday, however, the local bar shot back in a statement posted to its website, dismissing the report as the work of ill-informed “tourists.”
“The working group of the [institute] did not collect information for the report in accordance with the obvious situation, but only came to visit and copy information from the media and old reports,” the statement said.
“The report was made with a pre-determined conclusion that is not correct and is very biased, and it intends to destroy the legal professionals and poison the social atmosphere in Cambodia.”
According to the IBA report, the team gathered its information from prior reports and local media coverage as well as its own interviews with more than 40 people, including judges, lawyers and Justice Ministry officials.
The statement from the Cambodian Bar does not address the bribery allegations made in the report but denies the assertion that the CPP manipulates leadership votes within the bar via clandestine phone calls and labels the claim a “serious insult.”
“The Bar Association has administrative autonomy and finances that make the institution independent with full rights to manage the profession,” it said. “Every lawyer can stand as a candidate for president or council member regardless of race or political tendency. Elections to select the president and council members of the Bar Association are democratic and transparent.”
The Cambodian Bar does, however, concede that a dearth of funds for public defenders forces it to restrict its service to criminal cases only.
It ends the statement by saying it “regrets” the report’s recommendation that Cambodia’s membership in the IBA be reviewed, which could lead to the country’s ejection. The IBA has not said whether it will follow the recommendation and did not immediately reply to a request for comment.