Lawyers Face Tough Reform of Legal System

After coming under pressure during a recent visit by the UN’s new human rights envoy to Cam­bo­dia, members of the Cam­bo­dian Bar Association met Mon­day to discuss the problems plagu­­­­ing the country’s legal system.

UN envoy Peter Leuprecht re­quested that members of the judiciary discuss its faults after interviewing six men arrested under suspicion of being Cambodian Freedom Fighters.

Yim Sary, the lawyer for the six men accused of belonging to the group that has claimed responsibility for the Nov 24 fighting in Phnom Penh, said he feared his clients may be detained beyond the legal period of six months without being charged.

He also said the men might be convicted of crimes without either an arrest warrant or evidence. “Someone who is not guilty becomes guilty after the trial,” Yim Sary said.

The lawyers claimed as many as 85 percent of those detained in Phnom Penh are kept in jail awaiting trial beyond the six-month limit. And up to 70 percent of the arrests made are done so without a warrant, they said.

Perhaps Cambodia’s most brutal and visible example of an ailing judiciary, mob killings, was also debated by lawyers, judges and police. Dozens of suspected criminals have been viciously killed by mobs after being fingered for even the smallest infractions. Meeting participants blamed a nationwide distrust of the court system for the deaths.

“People do not believe the police and courts will give justice, that [the criminal] might be released afterward,” said Ang Eng Thong, president of the Bar Association.

While all meeting participants agreed Cambodia’s judiciary is in need of a major overhaul, none of those present were willing to take blame for its faults, Ang Eng Thong said. “We still did not come up with a good solution.”

Municipal Court Director Sao Sophary said society too contributed to the judiciary problems.

“The authorities cannot control the people,” he said. “I can’t practice my work following my will. I’m not happy with the current working system.”


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