NGO: Cambodian Courts Fail the Accused

Cambodia’s busiest and highest courts are failing to protect the most basic rights of the defendant, the Center for Social Development found in its latest quarterly Court Watch Bulletin.

According to the CSD report, the absence of defense counsel, prolonged pretrial detention and a general lack of respect for the presumption of innocence characterize much of the work at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, Kandal Provincial Court as well as that of the Appeals and Supreme Courts.

The report-based on the monitoring of 799 civil and criminal court proceedings held between July and September found that 46 percent of 231 defendants in Phnom Penh and Kandal province had no legal representation.

Pretrial detention exceeded the maximum legal limit of six months for 46 percent of 379 detainees whose cases were observed in Phnom Penh, while at Kandal Provincial Court, 30 of 63 detainees had been held longer than six months.

“Judges frequently informed the defendants that they must prove that the prosecution’s allegations are wrong,” the report stated.

“When the defendants…were unable to disprove the allegations, the judge found them guilty,” it added.

CPP Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana said he had not seen the CSD report and could not comment on its findings.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Director Chiv Keng said he was too busy to respond in detail but added that there were often legal reasons for extending pretrial detentions beyond six months. Kandal Pro­vincial Court Chief Prosecutor Huot Vuthy had not seen the re­port and declined to comment while Judge Tean Sothana referred questions to Cambodian Bar As­sociation President Ky Tech.

The lack of legal representation for the accused in the Cambodian court system does not result from a lack of lawyers but a lack of funding for lawyers to cover such cases, Ky Tech said.

He also said that he doubted the CSD’s findings.

“They did [the report] without cooperation from me and from the courts. I think the figures cannot be that high,” Ky Tech said.

CSD Executive Director Theary Seng said her organization stood by its statistics.

“The way we obtain those numbers is by our actual physical pre­sence in court,” she said.


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