UN Official Slams Pre-Trial Detention Law

A UN human rights official criticized legislation passed Thurs­day by the National Assembly that allows a three-year pre-trial detention period for suspects charged with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Rosemary McCreery, director of the Cambodia office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, aired her concerns in a Aug 10 letter to National Assem­bly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

The letter stated that a three-year detention period violates international standards of justice.

“A lengthy pre-trial detention period punishes those who have not been proven guilty in a court of law,” she added.

Despite the letter, read Thurs­day morning by a number of Assembly members, lawmakers approved the detention law by a vote of 86-8. The crux of the legislation—the three-year detention period for genocide suspects—had been approved overwhelmingly on Wednesday.

CPP lawmaker Chhour Leang Huot defended the measure and said it does not pose a threat to human rights.

“Saying that this law affects international standards—I think it is not true,” he said. “Other countries also have long temporary detentions mandated in their penal code.”

For example, France’s 1993 penal code allows temporary detention for one year and can be extended indefinitely for further investigation, Chhour Leang Huot said, reading from a French law book.

But Sam Sundoeun, a Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker, said Chhour Leang Huot read just “one bad part” of French law. He said French code also includes “good points to protect people if they were mistakenly detained,” he said. “Our law won’t protect people.”

Prince Ranariddh did not react to the UN letter. He said he supports the new law and affirmed that measures will be taken to protect detainees.

Previous detention law stated that prisoners must stand trial after six months. The new legislation, which still needs to be approved by the Senate and signed by the King or acting head of state, will allow the government to scrap plans to try Ta Mok by Sept 9 for violating a 1994 law banning the Khmer Rouge.

CPP officials had warned that trying the former Khmer Rouge military chief could reveal embarrassing details about the cooperation of some officials with the Khmer Rouge in the months leading up to the 1997 factional fighting.

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