UN Envoy Calls for Judicial Reform, Lauds Other Progress

The court system is still “chronically underfunded” and laws on its management are almost 20 years overdue, the U.N. human rights envoy Surya Subedi said yesterday.

One year ago, during his sixth mission to Cambodia, Mr. Subedi described reform in the courts as moving at a “frustratingly slow” pace. In an interview yesterday, he said laws on the establishment of judges, organization of the judiciary and reform of the Supreme Council of Magistracy—all of which he has called for—have yet to materialize.

“These laws should have been put in place [by now],” Mr. Subedi said. “The Constitution was enacted in 1993, and now we are approaching 2013. Twenty years have gone by since then, so these laws should be put in place to make sure that the judiciary is able to command trust and respect of people from Cambodia from all walks of life.”

Mr. Subedi said more resources should be made available in order to improve the independence of the courts, which is frequently called into question by rights groups.

“Reform of the judiciary should be a priority,” he said, adding that such moves would strengthen economic growth and attract more investors to the country.

As a special rapporteur, Mr. Subedi is in Cambodia on the invitation of the government. That said, his arrival for his eighth five-day mission was met with a chilly response in some quarters. On Sunday, Pen Ngoeun, an adviser to the Council of Ministers, released an open letter stating that Mr. Subedi was acting as a mouthpiece for the opposition.

Mr. Subedi insisted yesterday that the recommendations he makes in his reports are “based on common sense.”

Indeed, his work on the electoral system and economic land concessions has been widely referenced this year by the European Parliament, Australian Senate and rights groups. However, those reports were met with defensive outbursts from the government. Mr. Subedi has yet to receive a response from Prime Minister Hun Sen as to whether or not they can meet, despite sending a request to do so three weeks ago.

Still, Mr. Subedi was in a jovial mood as he discussed his visit yesterday. Asked whether or not he believes that the government is generally receptive to his presence and subsequent recommendations, Mr. Subedi said he is “confident” that reforms to improve the overall human rights situation would come sooner rather than later, and listed a number of improvements—including Mr. Hun Sen’s land-titling program—that he said are clear signs of progress.

“My recommendations have a direct and indirect impact on the work of the government,” he said. “Since I began my work here, the Law on Expropriation was enacted to compensate people. The NGO law was returned to the Ministry of Interior for reconsideration.

“The prime minister himself was involved in reaching a compromise with the Boeng Kak lake people…. The government appointed two retired senior judges to the National Election Committee—that was one of my recommendations—so I wouldn’t say they have been ignored. Some of them have been finding their way into the decision making process.”

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