The UN and the Cambodian Bar Association met Monday with legal experts for the first in a series of discussions aimed at stimulating debate and analysis of high-profile court cases.
The meeting, sponsored by the Cambodia Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, focused on the recent acquittal of former Khmer Rouge leader Chhouk Rin and the constitutionality of the 1994 legislation outlawing the Khmer Rouge.
The dozen legal experts who gathered in the Goldiana Hotel mostly analyzed Article Five of the 1994 law that a municipal judge used last month to acquit Chhouk Rin, who was accused of leading a 1994 train ambush that ended with the kidnapping and execution of three Western backpackers.
The article exempts from prosecution former Khmer Rouge members who joined the government within six months of a July 15, 1994 deadline.
“We wanted to air our opinion over the implementation of this law,” said Ang Eng Thong, president of the Bar Association. “We still don’t know why the judge applied another law to this case when the prosecutor charged Chhouk Rin with destroying state property and terrorism.”
Chhouk Rin’s lawyer, Put Theavy, disputed the comment. “This meeting’s not for interpreting the law,” he said. “We have to leave that up to the Constitutional Council. We can’t just let anyone modify the law like a suit to fit themselves.”
Those involved in the discussion said they hope their efforts to encourage public debate on the legal system will resonate with other sectors of Cambodian society.
“One of the purposes was to show people how to participate in society,” said Nhean So Munin, of the University of San Francisco Legal Training Center. “The more people realize they have the right to assemble and criticize, the more helpful it will be to reconstructing Cambodia.”
The Cambodian Bar Association will hold additional meetings but has yet to schedule them.
Ang Eng Thong said the next one will probably focus on police officers who allegedly have executed robbery suspects.