Human Rights Envoy’s Report Slams Judiciary

The Cambodian judiciary’s lack of independence and integrity pose a fundamental threat to human rights, and the legal system acts as an agency of oppression, outspoken UN rights envoy Yash Ghai said in a report released March 9.

Ghai expressed hope, however, that the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia will help break a decades-long pattern of impunity.

While senior government officials enjoy wide immunities, innocent people are victimized by the legal system at the government’s instigation, he alleged.

“Thus, far from protecting hu­man rights, the legal system be­comes a principal agency of oppression,” he said.

Ghai called for the immediate release of Tieng Narith, the university lecturer sentenced to two and a half years in prison last month for teaching from his own anti-government textbook. “[Tieng Narith] is reliably reported to suffer from mental health problems, and his welfare is a matter of great concern,” Ghai said.

He also urged the government to make public details of all large-scale land concessions, cancel those that breach the Land Law, and protect activists working on land issues from threats and intimidation.

On a more positive note, he said overall security has improved since the end of the civil war.

Om Yentieng, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s human rights adviser, said Ghai does not know what he is talking about. “The report doesn’t help the human rights situation,” Om Yentieng said. “What are the benefits to Cambodia of this re­port?” Government spokes­man Khieu Kanharith also dismissed Ghai’s findings, claiming the envoy never visits Cambodia and describing him as “the laziest staffer of the United Nations.”

Ghai was due to visit Cambodia next week but has postponed due to factors unrelated to the country’s situation, said Margo Picken, UN center for human rights country coordinator. However, Ghai looks forward to receiving the government’s responses to his findings before he presents them to the UN Human Rights Council, she said.


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