UN office starts project to transfer court skills

The UN human rights office in Cambodia is undertaking a project to transfer to the national courts knowledge and experience gained at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, Country Representative Christophe Peschoux said yesterday.

“The primary objective is to contribute to address some of the key shortcomings that we observe in the Cambodian judiciary,” Mr Peschoux said.

Mr Peschoux said the project was officially set to begin today after a few months of preparation that included meetings with members of the national judiciary and the tribunal.

Improving Cambodia’s courts has long been one of the aims of the tribunal. In a Sept 7 appeal to donors, Cabinet Minister Sok An called for assistance in transferring skills from the UN-backed court to the national judiciary.

The new project of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is “aimed at fostering the transfer of some of the knowledge and experience acquired by Cambodian magistrates at the [Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia] to their colleagues in the judiciary through a Cambodian-to-Cambodian mentoring process,” Mr Peschoux said.

“We know that Cambodians are a bit fed up of being trained and told what to do by foreigners.”

The mentoring process would initially focus on issues that arose in connection with the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, and that “correspond to problematic areas in the Cambodian judiciary,” he said. These areas include presumption of innocence, excessive pre-trial detention and “use of statements obtained under dubious circumstances.”

Judges and prosecutors are expected to participate in the process, which is still in the planning stage, Mr Peschoux added.

Government officials welcomed the project yesterday. Prom Sidhra, secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, said he met with a representative of the UN human rights office on Sept 24 to discuss the mentoring program.

“It can improve knowledge,” Mr Sidhra said of the project, adding that court officials “need more training.”

Ouk Savuth, prosecutor general at the Court of Appeal, said he was unaware of the project but was enthusiastic, saying, “It could improve understanding and knowledge.”

Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said the government was pursuing judicial reform and hoped the courts could benefit from the tribunal.

“We want to learn from that experience,” he said.

Cambodian judges and prosecutors at the tribunal were drawn in 2006 from the national courts. Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said a workshop should be held where these officials compare the tribunal and the national courts.

“Bring that issue and discuss nationwide and then we can improve,” he said.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said that while the tribunal may play a role in improving skills and knowledge, the courts will not meet international standards “without a fundamental shift in the government’s commitment to the rule of law.”


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