Legal Group Urges Review of Cambodia’s Bar

The human rights arm of the International Bar Association (IBA) is recommending that the membership of the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC) in the IBA be reviewed, raising the prospect of ejection in a scathing new report on the country’s judicial system.

Legal experts for the IBA’s Human Rights Institute spent a week in Cambodia in April reviewing the country’s legal system after the passage of three new laws meant to solidify the judiciary’s independence, which have been widely criticized for doing just the opposite. Their report on what they found, released Thursday, echoes multiple earlier reports describing a judicial system shot through with corruption and political influence.

Among the report’s recommendations is that the IBA “re-examine the grounds on which the BAKC has been granted ongoing membership of the IBA.”

The Human Rights Institute—whose experts interviewed judges, lawyers, Justice Ministry officials and others—says the Cambodian bar is too politicized to fairly represent and advocate for lawyers or their profession.

“There are credible allegations that the BAKC accepts bribes from lawyers entering into training, artificially restricts the number of lawyers entering the profession, permits entry by unqualified members of the CPP and is controlled by the CPP and government,” the report says.

“This last allegation is evidenced by the BAKC’s withholding of support from lawyers who are known to represent clients litigating against the interests of the state, where those lawyers then become the subject of spurious criminal charges.”

BAKC director Bun Hun declined to comment on the report, saying he had not yet seen it.

The report says bribes are standard practice throughout the judicial system, required for everything from securing a spot in a training program to settling a case, and even for accessing court records.

“The result of all this is that the judiciary is perceived to be an extension of the government in Cambodia,” the report says. “It is feared and resented by ordinary people who, where possible, avoid dealing with it altogether.”

Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said the report was out of date.

“I think the report does not recognize the reality and progress of our reforms,” he said.

“We recognize this is a problem, such as corruption, but we have done a lot to deal with it,” he added, citing the prosecution of court officials for corruption as an example.

The report also puts some of the blame on the CNRP. It says the opposition party has encouraged the executive’s undue influence over the courts by repeatedly negotiating with the CPP for the release of jailed activists, and recommends that the CNRP stop doing so.

(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)

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