UN Envoy Says He Doubts Autonomy of Courts

The UN human rights envoy to Cam­bodia has questioned the in­dependence of the country’s courts, alleging they are being used by the government to silence op­­position voices.

Peter Leuprecht also called for furth­er investigation into the murder of union leader Chea Vichea, and the immediate and unconditional release of opposition lawmaker Cheam Channy.

“These latest convictions are a grave injustice for the victims and their families,” Leuprecht said in a statement released Tuesday.

“The failure to observe minimum guarantees for a fair trial raises fundamental questions about Cam­bodia’s progress towards the rule of law,” the outspoken UN en­voy said.

On Aug 1, Phnom Penh Munici­pal Court Presiding Judge Kong Set sentenced Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun to 20 years imprisonment for the murder of Chea Vi­chea following a trial that has since been highly criticized.

A week later, Military Court Pre­siding Judge Ney Thol sentenced Che­am Channy to seven years for fraud and organizing an illegal arm­ed force. Claiming the proceedings did not meet proper legal requirements, human rights groups and members of the Sam Rainsy Party slammed the judgment.

“The verdicts also renew concern about the independence of the courts at a time when the Prime Minister has launched an ‘iron fist’ policy against corruption in the judiciary,” Leuprecht wrote.

“This policy has resulted in sanctions against several court officials without proper disciplinary procedures, and has further undermined the independence of the courts.”

Om Yentieng, head of the gov­ern­ment’s human rights committee and an adviser to Prime Minis­ter Hun Sen, said that Leuprecht, who is a legal expert, should have a bet­ter understanding of how the Cam­bodian legal system works than the accounts reflected in the statements.

Justice Minister Ang Vong Vath­ana could not be reached for comment. Last week, Ang Vong Vath­ana defended the government’s “iron fist” policy. “We do not influence judges’ decisions,” the minister said. “We just make sure the correct procedures are followed.”

The Justice Ministry was not plan­ning to look into Kong Set’s verdict in the Chea Vichea case, adding that if a complaint was made, “we would have to do something. But we did not see anything wrong.”


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