Ruling Overturning Bar Election Is Assailed

The decision last week to nullify the Cambodian Bar Associ­ation’s election results could further diminish the judiciary’s credibility at a time when the country’s courts already are under heavy scrutiny, lawyers and human rights advocates said Sunday.

Hours after the Appeals Court decision on Friday that reversed legal aid lawyer Suon Visal’s election as bar president and temporarily reinstated defeated in­cumbent Ky Tech, the Cam­bo­dian Human Rights Action Com­mittee issued a statement declaring the decision unconstitutional.

The legal basis for the decision, made in a closed-door session, still was not clear Sunday. The decision “will cause people to mistrust the court system and the bar association’s independence,” the statement read.

With donors and the international community more watchful of the judiciary in the run-up to the Khmer Rouge tribunal, the decision to reinstate Ky Tech for three months while preparations are made for a new election could be interpreted as a flagrantly political move, Suon Visal said. Legal activists have criticized the bar’s CPP leanings during Ky Tech’s tenure.

“What is the meaning of judicial reform when you see it’s not independent?” Suon Visal said. His lawyers have filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, he added.

The legal turmoil since the

Oct 16 runoff has already caused at least one potential donor to temporarily withhold support. East West Management In­sti­tute, which funnels money to rights groups from the US Agency for International Development, has put on hold its consideration of a small funding request from the bar association “because we need more clarity on who has day-to-day management” of the association, said Sandra Mitchell, director of EWMI’s Human Rights in Cambodia project.

“I must say that the recent events have sort of raised my eyebrow,” Mitchell said Sunday.

 

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