Flurry of Suits Won’t Help Deadlock, Many Say

As Cambodia’s politicians haul their disputes to the courts, analysts warn their legal battles may bode ill for the country’s current political impasse.

Contacted on Monday, civil society leaders and legal experts said the latest lawsuits between opposition leader Sam Rainsy and Prime Minister Hun Sen will do little to end the political deadlock, which for months has delayed the formation of a new government and National Assembly.

“I have no confidence that the court could solve this political dispute because this is too big, beyond their abilities,” said Chea Vannath, director of the Center for Social Development.

Topping the latest string of lawsuits, Sam Rainsy on Monday filed a criminal complaint against Hun Sen, alleging the prime minister was behind the 1997 grenade attack that killed at least 13 people at an opposition rally in Phnom Penh.

The move counters two defamation suits that Hun Sen and the government filed against Sam Rainsy last week over the opposition leader’s allegations that the ruling CPP was responsible for killing Chea Vichea, a prominent union leader who was shot dead Jan 22.

Sam Rainsy Party Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang on Monday also filed defamation suits against three men, who he claims falsely accused him of ordering a death threat against Chea Vichea last year.

Meanwhile, two other court complaints that Hun Sen and Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh launched against each other late last year remain unresolved.

Hun Sen filed a defamation

lawsuit against Prince Ranariddh in November, claiming the prince had falsely accused the premier of being involved in the Oct 18 shooting death of pro-Funcinpec radio journalist Chuor Chetharith.

Prince Ranariddh fired back with a criminal complaint, alleging Hun Sen incited Chuor Chetharith’s killing.

Politically, such a trading of lawsuits will only “sour further the situation we have faced,” said political analyst Lao Mong Hay.

But, he said, there is an upside: The complaints will put the courts in the spotlight, creating further demands for independence and impartiality in the country’s judicial system.

Chhim Phalvorun, a legal expert for the National Assembly, agreed, saying the legal wrangling was a step up from the way Cambodia’s politicians have handled their disputes in the past.

“It is a step forward that political figures…have turned from the culture of violence and the culture of verbal attacks into the way of the culture of law and [ask] the court to solve [their] controversies and differences,” he said. “A culture of lawsuits is better than a culture of fighting and killing.”

He added that as more politicians rely on the courts to resolve their disputes, the courts will be able to “show off their ability of fulfilling their duty of prosecuting power.”

But, he said, “The only question is whether they have the ability, independence and power to perform their fair judgment.”

Chea Vannath said she doubted that, amid the killings, the courts would be able to give fair rulings.

“In this atmosphere of fear, the courts find it difficult to rule,” she said. “As the political parties are fighting, people feel scared.”

She added that many people have lost hope that the parties would reach a resolution on forming the new government.

Kek Galabru, founder of local human rights NGO Licadho, also expressed concern over the tense political atmosphere.

“I am sorry that the three parties have found no good results to the political negotiations, but they end up trading lawsuits against one another,” she said.

At a press conference on Monday, Sam Rainsy acknowledged his lawsuit against Hun Sen “doesn’t help the political atmosphere for sure.”

But, he said, “I want to face Hun Sen before an independent court…. I have hope that truth and justice will prevail.”

Meanwhile, CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith on Monday said the lawsuit would create “no problem” for the current government, which he said can function normally until the parties reach an agreement to end the political deadlock.

He said the CPP welcomed the latest lawsuit, adding it could put the parties’ dispute behind them “once and for all.”

(Additional reporting by Wency Leung)

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