S’ville Court Ignored Constitution, Lawyers Say

Prosecutors and judges disregarded the Constitution and numerous laws in the July trial of two human rights workers in Siha­noukville, highlighting ‘‘significant deficiencies’’ in Cam­bo­dia’s legal system, US legal analysts claim in a new report.

The 25-page report by the New York-based Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights is being circulated to bolster the argument that the Cambodian government needs UN involvement in a trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders.

The report described a persistent disregard for legal procedures and even criticized the initial approach of the attorneys defending Licadho rights workers Meas Minear and Kim Sen.

Meas Minear and Kim Sen were charged with leading an illegal demonstration against toxic waste dumping in December 1998. After two days of courtroom drama, the judge admitted there was no evidence and the charges were dismissed.

“An independent observer whom we sent to the trial…found evidence of executive influence over the judge, poor legal training and a failure to recognize the full breadth of the minimum standards of procedural fairness,” Michael Posner, executive director of the Lawyers Committee, wrote in a recent letter to a US official.

Sihanoukville court officials dismissed the charges, maintaining that they did everything according to the book.

‘‘The judge was fully competent and has been doing his job for more than 20 years,’’ said Ke Sakhan, deputy director of Sihanoukville’s court. ‘‘Their unreasonable criticism angers us greatly.’’

The US group reiterated a com­­plaint that lawyers were denied access to evidence and case files on at least two occasions, a violation of Cambodian law and the Constitution.

It’s unclear if police had a warrant when they arrested the suspects. Initial demands from Licad­ho to see a warrant were rejected—a violation of Cam­bodian law, the authors of the report maintain.

During the trial, the trial judge and the prosecutor said they could only determine the exact offense of the defendants after the evidence had been heard. In addition, ‘‘neither the judge nor the prosecutor seemed to have even a basic understanding of the fundamental principle’’ that a defendant has the right to question witnesses testifying against him, the report by the Lawyers Committee stated.

On the defense side, the report noted that ‘‘it appears that the trial preparation…of the defense law­yers would have been woefully inadequate without intervention and support from Licadho’s staff.’’

Secretary of State for the Min­is­try of Justice Ly Vouch Leang, said she had not seen the report, but noted that ‘‘as far as I knew [Cam­bodian courts] acted in compliance with the law. It is not up to them to criticize us. Do the foreigners know the Cambodian laws more than the Cambodian courts? Maybe some of them could not understand the contents of Cambodia’s laws and Con­stitution.’’

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