With the Supreme Council of Magistracy expected to finalize its shortlist of Khmer Rouge trial judges and prosecutors today, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee has outlined qualities it expects in appointees, and urged council members to make their selections wisely.
Besides holding a university degree in law and having legal training and experience in criminal cases, the Cambodian and international candidates should be able to act independently and be of high moral character, CHRAC, a coalition of 21 NGOs, said in a statement late Tuesday.
Candidates should not have been disqualified repeatedly from cases because of personal interests, the statement said, adding that they should be impartial and possess integrity.
Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said that once the final list of judiciary officials is finalized, the Supreme Council of Magistracy will send it to Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, who will pass it on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for approval.
Reach Sambath would not identify the Cambodian nominees or reveal how many there are.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan publicly forwarded the names of 12 international candidates for nine positions in March. The names of those candidates have been made public.
Reach Sambath would not say when the finalized list of Cambodian officials would be made public, but said it would be announced eventually. “We are not going to keep it secret forever,” he said.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, voiced concern about the use of Cambodian judges.
Even if all appointed Cambodian judges give up their political affiliations, their rulings would be met with skepticism due to the judicial system’s bleak reputation, he said.
“Right now, the people do not trust and do not believe any Cambodian judge to be clean. No one trusts Cambodian judges,” he said.
Several court officials defended their profession, saying that anyone appointed to the tribunal would be compelled by their boosted salaries to act impartially.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court Director Chiv Keng said he doubted judges would predetermine defendants’ guilt without listening to both sides. “According to the law and also to the high salary, they are independent,” Chiv Keng said, adding that he was not among the nominees.
“Normally, judges follow a code of conduct, a code of law and have a high conscience, so they do not do anything wrong,” he maintained.
He added that the presence of international court officials would keep the trial fair and the biases of their Cambodian counterparts in check.
The municipal court’s Deputy Prosecutor Ngeth Sarath, who said he was also not a nominee, agreed. “They get paid an international salary, so they must be independent,” he said.