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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - KR trial holds promise for court reform

KR trial holds promise for court reform

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Lo Sim, who comes from Koh Thom, in Kandal Province, identifies herself among the many photos on the walls of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Sim, 53, was one of the very few survivors of the Khmer Rouge prison. The impending Khmer Rouge Trial has increased concern about the state of Cambodia's judiciary.

T he long-awaited trial of the leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime draws near. But the interaction between this groundbreaking legal event and the ongoing process of legal and judicial reform in Cambodia is complex and contested. As the trial captures increasing international attention, the Cambodian judiciary is finding itself under the microscope.

Reach Sambath, KR Trial Press Officer, argues that the trial will strengthen and improve the ongoing process of judicial reform in Cambodia.

"The KR Trial is a trial of history, the first trial of this kind to take place in Cambodia," he said. "We will learn a lot. This trial does not just bring justice to those who have died, but it will leave behind many good lessons for Cambodia, particularly the judiciary."

The judiciary is open and ready for change, he argues, and it has indicated a willingness to use the trial to further the process of reform.

"The judges are eager for the trial to start - they are eager for the opportunity to learn. The trial provides a perfect opportunity for this."

As an exemplary legal process, Dr Helen Jarvis, KR Trial Press Officer, argues that the trial will make a significant practical contribution to the judicial reform.

"I think the KR trial provides an unprecedented opportunity for judicial reform," she said. "It is not just an example from the outside, but it is something practiced in Cambodia, under Cambodian conditions. It is an on-the-job opportunity to look for different ways of doing things.

"It is not just a case of Cambodian judges observing - the judiciary will actually be functioning in a different setting. The KR trial gives the Cambodian judiciary a very unusual opportunity - it isn't just a short-term observation exercise, it is an opportunity to examine how things could be improved."

The trial will bring with it a huge inflow of resources, both material- and information-based. This will, Jarvis said, create an entirely new working environment for Cambodia's judges.

"The Cambodian judiciary will have the chance to experience a modern and well-resourced court environment," she said. "It is common knowledge that although judges' pay was increased dramatically a few years ago, in the past there have been judges who didn't even have the resources to get to court."

For many of the donors who have contributed intellectually and financially to the establishment of the KR trial, it will impact on the judiciary and aid reform through the provision of a role model, Jarvis said.

Japanese Ambassador Takahashi Fumiaki argued "the trial can play an important role as a catalyst for strengthening Cambodia's general judicial system, providing a good model in legal proceedings based on due process, efficient judicial administration and support systems."

But though better resources and role models will undoubtedly prove beneficial for judges, for the government the core lesson of the trial will stem from its impact on the country's aspirations and ideals.

"The Deputy Prime Minister has often made the point that the trial of the KR leaders will serve to end impunity and make sure those responsible for major crimes are legally held accountable," Jarvis said. "This will have concrete ramifications on the ongoing processes of legal and judicial reform."

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