UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour expressed support for past and present UN rights envoys to Cambodia at a Phnom Penh news conference on Friday, while warning of “very profound” problems plaguing the country’s judiciary.
Many of Cambodia’s judges lack adequate legal and professional backgrounds, Arbour said.
“There are deficits in the guarantees of judicial independence…. And I think there’s a widespread perception of lack of integrity, that is…the pervasive effect of corruption that is felt in many sectors of Cambodian society,” she said of the judiciary.
She added in a statement that an independent, professional judicial system would be essential in protecting fundamental rights and freedoms, and would also help resolve corruption, impunity and land conflicts. She also stressed the need for human rights activists to be able to work in safety.
Arbour said that during her meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday, he assured her that he is fully committed to the continued professional engagement of the UN center for human rights in Cambodia.
Hun Sen has taken issue with several UN rights envoys, most recently with Yash Ghai, upon whom he unleashed several vociferous verbal attacks in March after Ghai said there was too much power concentrated in the hands of one unnamed individual for freedom to flourish in Cambodia.
Arbour declined comment on Ghai’s findings but said Cambodia had been “extremely well served” by all the UN rights envoys to the country and that their views had to be considered.
“All the special representatives of the [UN] secretary-general are independent professional experts,” she said. “I believe we must take seriously their views even though some may disagree…with the substance of what they say.”
Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana declined to comment on Arbour’s views about the judiciary.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, however, defended Cambodia’s judges. “The law says the judicial sector remains independent,” he said. “From the liberation of our country to today there has been more than 20 years of experience. They are very experienced.”