Opposition Lawmakers Want Court Chief to Answer Questions

Opposition politicians have called for the chief judge at the Supreme Court to appear before the National Assembly to answer questions about a slew of recent controversial court decisions.

SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said that he submitted a letter on Friday addressed to Dith Munthy, who also sits on the Supreme Council of the Magistracy, to the office of National Assembly President Heng Samrin.

“Having noticed that from 1993 to the present day, the Cambodian courts are yet to be independent and unbiased in fulfilling its duty as stated in the Constitution,” the letter says.

“The lack of these things causes critical abuse of basic human rights and the majority of Cambodians have suffered all forms of injustice that are worsening, leaving no hope for them to gain protection and justice from judicial institutions.”

The letter goes on to state that people linked to the ruling party, the powerful and the rich have been accused of influencing the courts, and demands that Judge Munthy appear in the National Assembly on Thursday to respond.

An appearance by the court’s chief judge, it says, would allow the public to hear an explanation following major cases where the independence of the courts has been called into question.

It cites the dropping of charges against former Bavet City governor Chhouk Bundith, the initial suspect in the shooting of three female garment workers in February, the jailing of independent radio station owner Mam Sonando on secessionist charges, the detention of activists from the Boeng Kak and Borei Keila communities, and convictions against opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

Under Article 89 of the Constitution, the National Assembly must invite a high-ranking official to clarify such issues if there has been a request made by at least a tenth of the assembly’s sitting members.

The letter carries the signatures of 17 members of the SRP and the Human Rights Party.

Koam Kosal, chief of Mr. Samrin’s cabinet, said such letters are routinely forwarded with the endorsement of the president’s office.

“But this letter, I haven’t seen it yet. Maybe it was sent to our office,” he said.

Mr. Chhay said that last week he also submitted letters to Prime Minister Hun Sen, through the National Assembly, asking for Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy Suy Sem to appear before the assembly.

In the letter to Mr. Sem, Mr. Chhay requests that the minister appear to explain how licenses for mining and hydropower projects are awarded. The letter to Mr. Kheng asks the interior minister to explain extortionate fees for passports and corruption within the ranks of the traffic police

Mr. Chhay said he had submitted many such requests to officials in the past, but only “1 or 2 percent show up.”

However, he pointed out that Mr. Hun Sen last month rejected criticism from U.N. human rights envoy Surya Subedi on the grounds that, under the Constitution, the prime minister is only accountable to the National Assembly.

“I will test that out,” Mr. Chhay said.

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